Coal Tattoo

‘Coal in its current form is simply unsustainable’


The latest projections from the International Energy Agency are out this morning, and here’s how they read:

Tougher Chinese policies aimed at reducing dependency on coal will help restrain global coal demand growth over the next five years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report released today. Despite the slightly slower pace of growth, however, coal will meet more of the increase in global primary energy than oil or gas – continuing a trend that has been in place for more than a decade.

Coal industry supporters will love this quote from IEA Director Maria van der Hoeven said:

Like it or not, coal is here to stay for a long time to come. Coal is abundant and geopolitically secure, and coal-fired plants are easily integrated into existing power systems. With advantages like these, it is easy to see why coal demand continues to grow.

Those coal supporters — especially those who oppose any efforts to do anything about coal’s carbon footprint — need to read on, because van der Hoeven also said:

But it is equally important to emphasise that coal in its current form is simply unsustainable.

Check out the prepared remarks here, because there’s more:

There is no denying the controversial reality of coal, and its dominance of power generation worldwide. No fuel draws the same ire, particularly for its polluting qualities both locally and in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. And yet no fuel is as responsible for powering the economic growth that has pulled billions out of poverty in the past decades. As we look to the long term, we must ask what role coal has to play in the energy mix that we want to achieve – because there will be a role. But without mitigating the polluting effects of coal, pursuing business as usual will have enormous and tragic consequences.

The speech goes on:

Coal‐fired heat and power generation is the biggest single source of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from fuel combustion today. More than three‐fifths of the rise in global CO2 emissions since 2000 is due to the burning of coal to produce electricity and heat. And we should not overlook the health problems tied to local pollution produced by coal combustion.

There are solutions to both the issues of local pollution and CO2 emissions. Underground coal gasification is a form of clean coal technology that mainly addresses the former. Some major countries have recently announced policies to encourage the construction and use of highly efficient coal power plants … and to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS). We welcome those efforts as part of the broader push to reduce the environmental impact of coal.

Yet if nothing more than those emissions‐reduction policy commitments and pledges announced to date are implemented, we project that the long‐term increase in global temperatures will reach 4 degrees Celsius. This would exceed the globally agreed target of limiting the long‐term rise in temperatures to 2°C and would lead to a devastating and costly change in climate, the first signs of which we are already seeing today.

Radical action is needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, yet that radical action is disappointingly absent.

Progress on CCS is effectively stalled, and a meaningful carbon price is missing.