World Coal meeting is set to discuss the fuel’s future, but science and policymakers may have sealed the polluting fuel’s fate already, says Ed King for RTCC, part of the Guardian Environment Network
On a scale of diplomatic blunders, organising an international coal conference at the same time as a UN climate summit appears to be fairly substantial.
Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, which makes the Polish Ministry of Economy’s decision to host the International Coal and Climate conference from November 18-19 appear curious.
Without expensive technologies fixed to power stations, its noxious fumes can choke cities, raise mortality rates, cause acid rain and are heavily linked to climate change. In 2010 it was responsible for 43% of carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion – that’s around 13.1 gigatonnes of the 51 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GTCO2e) released that year.
In short, coal seems to be an enemy to what UN envoys call ‘climate ambition’. But the Polish hosts of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN, which starts on Monday 11 November, disagree.
The country’s environment minister Marcin Korolec says opponents of the coal summit are “very strange, if not worrying”.
He argues there is “no place for confrontation, isolation and selection” at the COP19 talks, pointing out that the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts global demand for coal is set to rise until 2035.
Local climate campaigners remain unconvinced. Julia Michalak, a policy officer at Climate Action Network accuses the government of “grossly misusing its position as COP President”.
“By endorsing and co-hosting a coal summit in the shadows of the UN’s climate change negotiations Poland has proven it prefers to push its own selfish interests, and those of the coal industry, rather than working collectively to achieve a global climate deal by 2015,” she told RTCC.
On a practical level it makes sense for Poland to maintain good links with the coal industry. In 2011 it consumed 77 million tonnes, generating 92% of electricity and 89% of heat.
For historical reasons Warsaw is reluctant to rely on Russian gas, although Korolec wants to explore for shale. In March the EU took Poland to court for ignoring its renewables directives.
Official documents indicate coal will play a major role in the country’s energy strategy until 2030, and this year the government announced plans for two new coal plants with a capacity of 900MW.
It’s still unclear if these will be fitted with carbon capture technology (CCS). If not, between them they could emit 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 over the next 55 years.
Politically it’s a tough line for Polish politicians to tread. Coal is popular, climate targets are not.
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