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Editorial comment

The wider world has been having a good laugh at the expense of the UK this month as the country struggled to deal with a heavier than usual snowfall. No doubt the UK experiences such difficulties because a snowfall of this magnitude is so rare that it does not seem to justify the time and effort required to develop a better system for responding to such extreme weather events. Of course those in the coal industry that are involved in maintenance would be the first to point out that this sort of reactive approach to a problem is perhaps the worst kind. If the same approach were taken to maintenance in the coal industry, for example, it would experience a great deal more unnecessary downtime than it currently does.


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The wider world has been having a good laugh at the expense of the UK this month as the country struggled to deal with a heavier than usual snowfall. No doubt the UK experiences such difficulties because a snowfall of this magnitude is so rare that it does not seem to justify the time and effort required to develop a better system for responding to such extreme weather events. Of course those in the coal industry that are involved in maintenance would be the first to point out that this sort of reactive approach to a problem is perhaps the worst kind. If the same approach were taken to maintenance in the coal industry, for example, it would experience a great deal more unnecessary downtime than it currently does.

Indeed, a pre-emptive approach to most problems is probably the best one and could be applied to some of the wider problems that the coal industry currently faces. For example, dealing with the impact that the current financial situation is having on mining companies, such as Rio Tinto and Xstrata. One could argue that it would have been impossible to anticipate the current economic climate when Rio bought Alcan, or when BHP Billiton made its first offer for Rio; however, it would be disastrous for these companies to now bury their heads in the sand and not confront the effects of these actions. Consequently, we have seen Rio selling assets, Xstrata proposing complex two-for-one share deals and BHP withdrawing its offer for Rio. These actions are being taken in an attempt to mitigate the economic woes of such influential players in the mining industry.

Furthermore, pre-emptive planning is central to how commentators and analysts feel Governments and industry should tackle the energy challenges of the moment: climate change and security of energy supply. Decision makers in this field cannot afford to take a reactive approach to these issues, because the energy industry does not move quickly enough to react effectively. If a country decides now that it wants nuclear power to be a part of its energy mix, it will take many years to make that desire a reality. If a Government decides that it wants CCS technology to be integrated into its country’s coal-fired power plants, or a greater use of coal gasification technologies, the industry needs time to develop the necessary technology. It will only do this if it is sure it will be worth its while. In the same way that the UK does not deal well with the snow because those involved perceive putting an effective system in place not to be worth their while, so the coal industry requires incentives to put systems in place for developing cleaner coal technologies. Who would have thought that those who are blamed for causing more extreme weather events across the globe would have so much in common with those responsible for dealing with their consequences?