Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Forever Coal: return of the offender

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Energy
Forever Coal: return of the offender cbpix
04 Aug
2018
Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend, says Marco Magrini. However, not all past burners are keeping the fires lit

‘Coal has a very important role in our energy mix and I have no doubt it will have for many, many years to come, possibly forever.’ How can you utter such a thing without laughing? Coal, while being more abundant on Earth than oil and gas, is the worst climate offender by far. For every megawatt-hour generated, coal-fired power stations emit around 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, nearly double their gas-fired counterparts.

The trouble is that Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, once an advocate for carbon-neutral policies, was serious while pronouncing those words. Climate change should be well known Down Under, as recent harsh droughts or the ongoing bleaching of the Great Reef Barrier (due to CO2-induced ocean acidification and ocean warming) are potent enough reminders. Australia, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, has pledged to keep the temperature rise ‘well below 2°C’, if possible at 1.5°C. An epic task that can only be accomplished by phasing out coal combustion as fast as possible – certainly, not by burning it ‘forever’.

turnbullAustralian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees a long future for coal (Image: photocosmos1)

It is true that in 2017 China coal production (3.1 billion tonnes) eclipsed Australia (0.4 billion tonnes), but in Beijing the word ‘forever’ is not in use. Just last month the People’s Republic launched a three-year plan that includes measures ‘to vigorously eliminate coal-fired units of less than 300,000 kilowatts that are not up to environmental, efficiency and safety standards’ while investing more in renewable energy. Even now, under Xi Jinping’s tighter grip, China is widely expected to fulfil its own pledges under the Paris Agreement.

Here is the point. In order to keep our common atmosphere in thermal equilibrium, we need a worldwide, multilateral commitment to phase out fossil fuel combustion, and coal combustion in particular. Now more so, as a leaked version of the summary to the new IPCC report due out in October, clearly states that the 1.5°C goal is hard to reach and that a warming of 2°C would be ‘substantially’ more harmful.

After president Donald Trump walked away from the Paris Agreement and pursued the rebirth of an ailing coal industry, unilateralism is now in vogue. Turnbull’s ‘forever coal’ is just as trendy. Yet, if IPCC scientists are right, one day they will be both proven deadly wrong. It won’t take forever. 

This was published in the August 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

sub 2020 copy

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

Concerns about the ozone hole have diminished as levels of…

Wildlife

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Munu – a…

Geophoto

Photography competition, Earth Photo, returns for the third year with…

Oceans

A new study reveals the process behind the strange phenomenon…

Wildlife

Hunting is a topic that attracts polarised viewpoints. But as…

Oceans

A compilation of 50-years worth of data on human activity…

Wildlife

From the US to the Mediterranean, herds of goats are…

Wildlife

Meet the 2020 Whitley Award winners

Wildlife

Protecting the most famous members of the animal kingdom may…

Climate

With Milan announcing an ambitious new plan to reduce air…

Wildlife

Loss of tourism revenue is having a worrying impact on…

Oceans

Researchers studying marine heatwaves in the northeast Pacific, known as…

Wildlife

The notion that the Covid-19 pandemic all began because one…

Energy

The price of oil is plummeting – Angus Parker takes…

Geophoto

With so much to see on our doorsteps, this is…

Wildlife

A new decade-spanning study, in which the longest migration of…

Climate

Marco Magrini analyses the implications of the COP26 delay