Young girls protest in front of the Polish Ministry of Economy in Warsaw, Monday Nov. 18, 2013 where a Coal Industry meeting is taking place in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. The U.N.’s chief climate diplomat on Monday urged the coal industry to diversify toward cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground. On the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, Christiana Figueres told dozens of CEOs of coal companies meeting at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet. ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Making the rounds today is news of an important speech that the U.N.’s chief climate diplomat delivered today to a coal industry group that scheduled its own meeting to coincide with the internatinoal climate conference taking place in Warsaw, Poland. Here’s how The Associated Press reported it:
On the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, Christiana Figueres told dozens of CEOs of coal companies meeting at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.
“The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution,” Figueres said.
Reuters described it this way:
The U.N. climate chief urged a radical clean-up of the coal industry on Monday to help limit global warming, at an industry meeting in Warsaw condemned by environmentalists as a distraction from the nearby U.N. climate change conference.
Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N.’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the coal summit that the industry had to change “rapidly and dramatically” to limit high pollution and carbon emissions, including in heavily coal-dependent Poland.
She urged the industry to “leave most existing reserves in the ground”, to shut inefficient plants and to capture and bury all emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants, a technology that has proved too costly so far for wide use.
Greenpeace activists place a banner at the Polish Economy Ministry during protests against a Coal Summit in Warsaw, Poland on Monday, Nov.18, 2013, (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.
There are some who, deeply concerned about the devastating effects of climate change already felt by vulnerable populations around the world, are calling for the immediate shut down of all coal plants. There are others who think that coal does not have to change at all, that we can continue to extract and burn as we have done in the past.
The first view does not take into account the immediate needs of nations looking to provide reliable energy to rapidly growing populations in pursuit of economic development and poverty eradication. The second view does not take into account the immediate need for climate stability on this planet, necessary for the wellbeing of present and future generations.
It goes on:
Ladies and gentlemen, the coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution by responding proactively to the current paradigm shift. It would be presumptuous of me to put forward a transition plan for coal as you are the repositories of knowledge and experience, and the assets you manage are at stake.
But there are some fundamental parameters of this transition:
Close all existing subcritical plants;
Implement safe CCUS on all new plants, even the most efficient; and
Leave most existing reserves in the ground.
These are not marginal or trivial changes, these are transformations that go to the core of the coal industry, and many will say it simply cannot be done. But the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is tantamount to human history because will precedes innovation, and innovation precedes transformation. John F. Kennedy called for putting man on the moon in ten years at a point when no one knew how that would be done.
We must transform coal with the same determination, the same perseverance, the same will. We must be confident that if we set an ambitious course to low-emissions, science and technology will rapidly transform systems. Above all, you must invest in this potential, because the coal industry has the most to gain by leveraging the existing capital, knowledge and capacity to transform itself.