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UN climate chief urges coal industry to change

World Coal,

The head of the United Nations climate change secretariat has warned the global coal industry that it must “change rapidly and dramatically” in order to tackle climate change or risk decline.

Speaking at the World Coal Association’s International Coal and Climate summit in Warsaw, Poland yesterday, Christiana Figueres said that the coal industry can no longer afford to ignore the threat posed to it by efforts to tackle climate change.

Figueres addressed attendees of the summit in what she described as a “frank and honest exchange on the transition to a low-emission economy”. Here is an abridged version of her speech:

“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.

“Today I want to set out an alternative path that is admittedly not easy, but is undoubtedly necessary. That path must acknowledge the past, consider the present and chart a path towards an acceptable future for all. I join you today to discuss this path for two reasons.

“First, the energy sector is an intrinsic component of a sustainable future. And second, the coal industry must change and you are decision makers who have the knowledge and power to change the way the world uses coal […]

“Coal [has] brought affordable energy to parts of the developing world. However, while society has benefitted from coal-fuelled development, we now know there is an unacceptably high cost to human and environmental health.

“[…] We are at unprecedented GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius […]

“There is no doubt that the science is a clarion call for the rapid transformation of the coal industry. Just this morning, more than 25 leading climate and energy scientists from around the world released a clear statement about the need to radically rethink coal’s place in our energy mix.

“Considering that coal energy loads the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, competes for water and impacts public health, the call of science has already been answered by a wide gamut of stakeholders […]

“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 […]

“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. These radical changes have the transformative power to bring coal in line with the direction in which society is moving […]

“By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security and creates new jobs […]

“We must urgently take the steps that put us on an ambitious path to global peaking by the end of this decade, and zero-net emissions by the second half of the century. Steps that look past next quarter’s bottom line and see next generation’s bottom line, and steps to figure health, security and sustainability into the bottom line […]

“[We] must be able to look back and recognise this summit as a historic turning point for the coal industry.”

Edited from various sources by Katie Woodward

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