Friday, 10 April 2015

Climate change: "The lights are going out for coal"

This blog as considered the relationships around the mining industry:
Futures Forum: Quarrying in East Devon: can it be done 'sustainably'?
Futures Forum: "Climate science has been dragged into the American-style culture wars that are turning British intellectual life into a battlefield."

Indeed, questions are growing as to the extent to which the debate around climate change has been clouded by political lobbying:
Futures Forum: Climate change: can you officially 'ban' the term?

... especially lobbying from the mining industries:
Canada's about-face on climate | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Peabody Energy | PolluterWatch
Court challenge will test coal mining's climate culpability
Coal | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
The Coal Industry Is Imploding. Why Is it Still So Powerful in Washington? | The Nation

Conversely, there is increasing pressure to 'keep it in the ground':
Australia's coal plants face stranded asset threat - 26 Mar 2015 - News from BusinessGreen

And there are more and more questions being raised about the extent to which the now-regular bouts of severe air pollution are due to coal-fired power stations:
Futures Forum: Air pollution: "A major and awkward factor behind dirty British air is Britain itself - home grown pollution from our factories and power stations and traffic."

Indeed, the evidence is growing:
coal power: air pollution | Union of Concerned Scientists
Air pollution from coal-fired power plants - SourceWatch

... with comment in the last couple of days linking air pollution, climate change and burning coal:
Environmentalists sue over Utah power plants emissions - CacheValleyDaily.com : Utah State News
Capping coal consumption is the correct choice for China | Business Spectator
Obama emphasises threat to public health as part of climate change push | US news | The Guardian

In fact, the UK is responsible for a fair amount of air pollution:
UK faces court action over Wales coal plant emissions - AirQualityNews
Coal industry setting its own air pollution standards - The Ecologist

Nevertheless, Britain's 'King Coal' has been vociferous in doubting the science of climate change:
Futures Forum: Climate change: and the coal mining industry

Last month, Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph questioned this approach in the light of new information:

The lights are going out for coal - and humans may be starting to fight back against global warming

Global emissions have been static, but there's no recession to explain it. Are we finally decoupling pollution from economic growth?

A polar bear and her cubs on pack ice. Global warming, weather, climate

A polar bear and her cubs on pack ice Photo: ALAMY

Perhaps I should cross my fingers before writing this, but it just may be that we have slipped, virtually without noticing, past a landmark in environmental and industrial history. Preliminary figures suggest that last year, for the first time, global emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels failed to rise despite economic growth. Even more surprisingly, emissions seem to have fallen in China.
If confirmed, these developments – only recently thought beyond the bounds of practical possibility – would provide the most hopeful sign yet that the world mayget to grips with climate change before it becomes too dangerous. They indicate that the traditional link between carbon emissions and economic growth can be broken.
Last week the International Energy Agency provisionally reported that global emissions were 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, the same as the year before. These have failed to rise only three times before in the past 40 years, on each occasion because of bad economic times. In the early 1980s, there was a US recession; in 1992, the Soviet Union had just collapsed; in 2009, there was a financial crisis. Last year, by contrast, the global economy grew by 3 per cent.
More encouraging still, new estimates suggest that Chinese emissions – a quarter of the total – dropped by 2 per cent, despite a 7.4 per cent growth in GDP.

A still from the enviromental disiater movie 'The Day After Tomorrow' (20th Century Fox)
It is hard to overstate the sense of what the agency calls “very welcome surprise”. Only weeks ago warnings that emissions would have to peak this decade to avoid catastrophic global warming seemed impossible to satisfy. And a Chinese announcement last autumn that it would stop the pollution increasing by 2030, as part of an agreement with the US, was widely dismissed as an insincere pipe dream.
Of course, one year’s measurements – even if confirmed – do not signify a trend: the likelihood must be that there will be some growth in future. But there are good grounds for believing, as Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, puts it, that “for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth”.
Chief among them is the sudden plunge of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel and biggest contributor to climate change, from boom into bust. The growth of coal-fired electricity, which tripled between 2005 and 2012, has gone abruptly into reverse. A report last week concluded that hundreds of plants have been closed or cancelled worldwide in recent years, with two abandoned for every one completed.
The Drax power station - Europe's largest coal fired power station located in North Yorkshire (Alamy)

This trend is accelerating. On Thursday, government sources in Germany, justly criticised for expanding coal use while phasing out nuclear power, disclosed plans to cut it by the equivalent of eight plants. And on Tuesday Italy’s biggest power company, Enel, announced it was phasing out investments in the fuel following a decision in December by the giant German firm E.ON to switch its focus to renewables.
In the UK, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg jointly pledged last month to build no more coal-fired power stations without equipment to prevent carbon emissions. Coal hardly features in the EU’s recently announced energy plans, and in the US, the share of electricity it generates has dropped from 50 to 39 per cent in a decade.

The biggest shift has come from China, where, as I predicted in December, coal use unexpectedly fell last year after doubling over the last decade. The once-explosive increase in new plants has halved since 2006, and those that have been built are only running at 54 per cent capacity as the country cracks down on air pollution. In India, where a surge of new construction was expected to take up the slack, six projects have been shelved or scrapped for every one completed since mid-2012.
Of course, some countries, including Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia and Poland, still play court to King Coal. Over their lifetimes, the plants that already exist will contribute 85 per cent of the carbon dioxide that can be emitted without provoking dangerous global warming. That leaves little space for oil and gas, let alone any new coal plants.
Much more has to be done to phase out this grubby fuel. Even stabilising carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough because the gas accumulates in the atmosphere. The emission reduction plans due to be agreed at a summit in Paris this December still fall far short of what we can get away with. But with new grounds for hope, I, at least, am keeping those fingers crossed.

The lights are going out for coal - and humans may be starting to fight back against global warming - Telegraph

See also:
Futures Forum: "Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century."


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