If we continue to use coal, we cannot stop catastrophic climate change

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Aerial view of the Welsh open-pit coal mine in November 2021

At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, diplomats collectively needed to accelerate the phasing out of subsidies for coal and fossil fuels for the first time in order to achieve their climate goals. Draft statement Released on Wednesday.

Countries can continue to use coal at current levels or limit future warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) target set by the Paris climate agreement. It is impossible to do both. But for many years, this scientific reality has been an elephant in high-level international climate negotiations-until now.

“This is important,” said Helen Mountford, vice president of the World Resources Institute. Tell reporter“We have never received such a text message before.”

Nevertheless, this new statement is not final, there is no timetable or other details, and it is accompanied by some vague country-specific commitments. This incoordination with coal reflects the core tensions played out in Glasgow’s high-profile climate negotiations: what measures must be taken by countries to stop the worsening climate crisis, what actions countries say they will take in the future, and the existence of actual actions. Obvious gaps are now being made.

“We will see if that text can stick to it,” Mountford said later. “We hope it will. This is a very important and concrete action that countries can take to actually fulfill their promises.”

Outside of the climate negotiations, the protesters demanded that the language be retained. According to the Washington Post, They chanted: “‘Fossil fuel’ is now written on paper” and “Keep it in the text.”

Even the UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed disappointment at Thursday’s negotiations. Speaking at the national level “According to the International Monetary Fund’s measurement, when the fossil fuel industry is still receiving trillions of dollars in subsidies, the promises appear hollow. Or when countries are still building coal-fired power plants.”

With the implementation of current climate policies, the world is expected to heat up to more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century compared to pre-industrial levels.even though Latest record The current commitment to future climate action puts the world on a trajectory of warming 1.8 degrees Celsius. This means that even if all countries have truly fulfilled their most ambitious promises-a big assumption-we will still exceed the key Paris target by 0.3 degrees. This may seem like a slight difference, but science is very clear that every tenth of a degree is catastrophic for humans: more frequent and intense heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires; more sea level rise; And eventually bring more pain.

Science also clearly shows that the impact of coal on the climate is very bad.Coal is the most carbon-intensive energy source, responsible for About 40% Of carbon emissions are related to the use of fossil fuels globally.

This is why more and more officials say that abandoning coal is one of the most important steps in tackling climate change. For example, just last week, Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Gilbert said in Glasgow: “Ending coal-fired power emissions is one of the most important steps we must take to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement’s targets and 1.5 degrees. The goal.”

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)

Climate simulation results Published last month The International Energy Agency’s research shows that if the current coal use is not reduced, the future global warming cannot be limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius, let alone less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The IEA’s most aggressive emission reduction plan outlines a road map for how to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve “net zero” emissions (when the carbon balance entering the atmosphere equals the carbon balance discharged through carbon capture and plant life), and others Remove source). Known as the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 or NSE scenario, it involves halting new coal-fired power plants and reducing emissions from approximately 2,100 gigawatts of power plants currently operating worldwide.

“It completely disappeared from the power sector,” IEA modeler Daniel Crow said of coal in this situation. “The unreduced coal has completely disappeared.”

A very small amount of coal will be retained, and the resulting carbon emissions may be directly discharged from the atmosphere by means of carbon capture and storage technology.

Pavel Mikhayev/Reuters

On November 8, 2021, a railway car filled with coal was seen at a railway station in the town of Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol conveyed this message to Glasgow at an event organized by the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which was established in 2017 to end the use of coal.Up to now, there are 165 countries, regions, cities, and enterprises SignedThis includes 28 new members announced at the ongoing climate conference.

In many cases, participating countries have outlined a deadline for phase-out: Ukraine has committed to ending coal use by 2035, Croatia has set a deadline of 2033, and Estonia has no coal.

“As far as we are in the UK, we have reduced the use of coal for electricity to an incredible 2% of our total use,” said Greg Hands, the co-chair of the coalition and British minister, at the event. Means in. “By 2024, it will completely disappear from our energy structure.”

But on the same day an independent but overlapping coalition to terminate coal was launched in Glasgow, which shows how chaotic international coal politics is. This second group signed the new “Statement on Global Coal’s Transition to Clean Energy“Commit to, among other things, “end all investment in domestic and international new coal power” and “major economies will phase out coal power in economies in the 2030s and the rest of the world in the 2040s.”

Former Canadian Minister of Environment Katherine McKenna, who helped launch the coal coalition in the past, called on the second coalition to lower the threshold for climate action: the need to power coal in the past all Phase out coal by 2040.

New initiatives are sufficient-especially those that weaken entry prices and do not take any measures to reduce emissions. The work that the country needs to do & fulfill the promises they have made (just like what 🇨🇦 is doing). No more ribbons appeared. Only when you finish the game: 1.5 degrees. #COP26 https://t.co/fLZIpIwXWJ


Twitter: @cathmckenna / Via Twitter

One of the most important signatories of the new statement is Poland, a country that relies heavily on coal. Poland has one of the 25 largest GDPs in 2020. This has led many to conclude that Poland, a major economy, is seeking to stop using coal in the 2030s. But the country’s officials quickly fought back, saying that the country plans to phase out coal in the 2040s, possibly by 2049 at the latest.

South Korea, another major coal consumer, also signed the statement last week, seemingly committed to abandoning coal before the end of the next decade. The country’s trade minister subsequently withdrew the promise, Issued a statement saying: “We support accelerating the transition to clean energy, but we have never agreed on a date for the transition from coal.”

Neither the United States nor China, the two world’s leading coal producers, have signed any alliances. As members of the G20 or G20, these countries have agreed to stop financing overseas coal projects this year.

Then, this week, John Kerry, the U.S. President’s special envoy for climate issues, Told Bloomberg in an interview: “By 2030, the United States will have no coal.” The next day, he announced to China on behalf of the United States that the two countries had Agree with each other To increase their climate ambitions and reiterate their commitment to stop helping international coal projects. Although China agreed to “do its best to speed up” the phase-out of coal, it did not give a date. There is no mention of the future of American coal.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

John Kerry at COP26 on November 2, 2021

Even if more politicians are just beginning to show that the future of coal is obvious in a warming world, the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuels is already underway.

Take the United States. According to Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Movement, About 348 coal-fired power plants In the past ten years, the United States has retired or announced its retirement. Currently, there are approximately 182 factories operating across the country.

“This is a big improvement in 10 years,” Sierra Club senior director Cherelle Blazer told BuzzFeed News. “As far as I know, there is currently no plan to build a new coal-fired power plant.”

Seth Feaster, an energy data analyst at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, provided more background for the United States to move away from coal. “Just 10 years ago, our coal power generation reached its peak,” he explained. “In other words, from 2011 to 2020, we eliminated nearly one-third of coal production capacity.”

Fest added that another third will be decommissioned within the next ten years, and that by 2030, the United States will have only one-third of its peak coal production capacity — and he expects this rapid decline to continue to accelerate.

Although Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, he promised to end the “coal war” and subsequently actively abolish coal rules. This all happened.

So, does this make Kerry’s recent goal of no longer using coal in the United States by 2030 within reach? Well, not exactly. Even Fest said that this is a “still quite optimistic goal.”

Complicating matters is the fate of US President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate legislation. Rebuild a better planThe biggest obstacle to getting these new climate policies across the finish line is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, his Personal wealth Built on coal.It is now discussing whether he is pushing for tax incentives to be incorporated into technology to capture carbon pollution Will make coal-fired power plants run longer.

The closure of coal-fired power plants across the United States has pushed the country’s climate emissions down. But after coal, natural gas helped fill this gap. Therefore, as emissions related to coal have fallen, natural gas emissions have risen. This energy transition will not prevent the climate crisis.

“These countries that plan to move away from coal should be very, very careful not to lock in emissions by switching to another fossil fuel-natural gas-and focus on turning it into renewable energy,” warn This week, María José de Villafranca, climate policy analyst at the NewClimate Institute.

November 12, 2021 at 17:17 PM

correct: It is estimated that by 2030, coal production capacity in the United States will reach one-third of its peak; a previous version of this article incorrectly identified this number.

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