Coal returns after energy crisis put pressure on climate change agenda
Moscow’s war on Ukraine, coupled with record increases in energy prices, has been a recipe for a global coal comeback, upending plans to tackle climate change around the world.
From the United States and Europe to India and China, the appetite for more coal has been ignited by a rush for alternative energy sources to end dependence on oil and natural gas of Russia. Many countries now see coal as the most convenient and quickest solution.
“We will need it until we find alternative sources. Until then, even the greenest government will not phase out coal,” Václav Bartuška, energy security commissioner of the Czech Republic, told news outlet Seznam Zprávy.
Most elected leaders on the left have promised that the coal stimulus will be temporary, but it remains to be seen how long a temporary stimulus will last.
For now, it’s an easy solution to a global energy crisis.
Coal-fired power plants can be brought back into service fairly quickly, and coal mines already cover the Earth, with major production coming from China, India, the United States, Australia and Indonesia.
Global coal consumption has fluctuated slightly over the past decade, but had largely stabilized until recently, according to the International Energy Agency. As the primary source of electricity, coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, underscoring countries’ desire to switch to cleaner energy sources like electricity. wind, solar and nuclear.
US coal exports rose 23% last year as the price of natural gas soared, with India and China the biggest importers of coal for power generation, according to US Energy Information Administration.
For the first time in years, India’s use of coal increased in 2021, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of Indian energy data.
In Europe, countries are returning to coal to wean themselves off Russian natural gas.
“There is a temporary role for coal, which we hoped would be out of the energy mix by the end of this decade. But it will remain for longer,” Bartuška said.
The UK, which has been forced to abandon plans to shut down its few remaining coal-fired power plants, will stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year. The EU has announced its intention to cut its imports of Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of the year.
Bulgaria has ended its natural gas power plant plans and Romania will ramp up coal extraction from its existing mines.
Countries with ambitious climate change plans to meet certain emissions standards in the coming years stressed that reliance on coal runs counter to their clean energy positions, but stressed that they are only temporary. They emphasized that long-term goals have not been abandoned.
The trend has set off alarm bells for environmentalists.
Democrats in Congress turned their wrath on Big Oil with accusations of price gouging.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said rising energy prices “look like rising prices.”
In Europe, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called coal a “dumb investment”. He said it must be phased out entirely in the wealthiest countries by 2030 and by 2040 for all others, including China, to keep the world on track with the Paris climate goals.
“This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction,” Mr Guterres said in a speech at the Economist Sustainability Summit last week in London. immediate supply of fossil fuels that they neglect or impose policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”
A 10-point plan unveiled earlier this month by the International Energy Agency on reducing the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas concluded that a “temporary switch from natural gas coal or oil could reduce the demand for gas for electricity by about 28%”. [billion cubic meters] before there is an overall increase in EU energy-related emissions.
Gregory Croft, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Saint Mary’s College in California, said the comeback of coal has caused a setback to the climate change agenda because “climate is global, so no matter or [coal] gets burned. »
“It’s temporary as the coal push is driven by political events. But as soon as you say temporary, the question is how long? he said. “Russia could pull out and things would stabilize, but I don’t see how in the short term. I agree it’s temporary, but it could take years.