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PORTSIDE  November 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE November 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Hardening Our Coal Addiction

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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Date:

Sun, 6 Nov 2011 22:54:34 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (201 lines)

The Triumph of King Coal: Hardening Our Coal Addiction
Despite all the talk about curbing greenhouse gas 
emissions, the world is burning more and more coal. 
The inconvenient truth is that coal remains a cheap 
and dirty fuel - and the idea of "clean" coal remains 
a distant dream.
by Fred Pearce
YALE environment360
31 Oct 2011
http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_triumph_of_king_coal_hardening_our_coal_addiction/2458/

This year's UN climate negotiations are in Durban, South
Africa. Many delegates will already be looking forward
to the chance of going on safari after their labors,
visiting Kruger National Park or one of the country's
other magnificent game reserves. But I have another
suggestion. Visit the enemy. Just two hours' drive up
the Indian Ocean coast from Durban is Richards Bay, a
huge deep-water harbor that is home to the world's
largest coal export terminal.

Anyone seduced by the conference exhibition halls in
Durban, filled with the latest renewable energy
technology, will get a rude awakening at Richards Bay.
For it may tell the real story of our energy futures -
and it is scary.

King coal is extending his kingdom. So dysfunctional is
the world's response to climate change that every year,
the dirtiest fuel of them all is generating a growing
proportion of the world's energy.

All the talks in Durban will be of how to kick the coal
habit. But as the climate talks have dragged on - from
Nairobi in 2006 to Bali to Poznan to Copenhagen to
Cancun and now to Durban - we have been hardening our
addiction.

When the talks began half a decade ago, 25 percent of
the world's primary energy came from coal. The figure is
now 29.6 percent. Between 2009 and 2010, global coal
consumption grew by almost 8 percent.

South Africa may enjoy green plaudits for hosting the
Durban conference. And, to be fair, it has offered to
reduce the carbon intensity of its economy. But the fact
is that today the would-be midwife of a global climate
deal has rich-world emissions in a predominantly poor-
world country. Per head of population, its CO2 emissions
are higher than those in the UK, while its GDP per
capita is only a sixth as much. It is responsible for
about 40 percent of Africa's CO2 emissions from fossil
fuel burning.

The reason is coal. Making energy by burning coal
produces twice as much CO2 as by burning natural gas.
And South Africa is one of the most coal-dependent
nations on Earth, generating 93 percent of its
electricity from the black stuff, compared to China's 80
percent, India's 70 percent and the U.S.'s 45 percent.

Besides its domestic reliance on coal, South Africa also
helps maintain the rest of the world's ruinous carbon
fix. It is the world's third-largest exporter of power-
station coal. Its giant mines in Mpumalanga province
feed a constant convoy of coal trains headed for
Richards Bay. Recently expanded, the export terminal
there can now handle 91 million tons of coal a year -
enough to produce more than 200 million tons of CO2.
Mining giants Anglo American and BHP Billiton ship that
coal to Europe, and, increasingly, to the new industrial
powerhouses of Asia.

The world is in the middle of a coal rush. That is why
last year - despite much political posturing about
curbing greenhouse gas emissions - the 5.8-percent rise
in global energy-related CO2 emissions marginally
exceeded the global rise in energy consumption. Thanks
to coal, the world's economy is becoming more carbon
intensive.

Cynics who said tougher carbon controls in rich nations
might increase global emissions by outsourcing energy-
intensive industries to poorer nations with laxer
standards are, for now at least, being proved right.
While many Western economies stall, many developing
economies are growing fast. And the continuing heavy
dependence of many of them on coal is pushing up the
global economy's reliance on the dirtiest fuel.

China may be the world's largest producer of wind
turbines and solar panels, but its coal consumption has
doubled in the past eight years. In 2010, an amazing 48
percent of all the coal burned in the world was burned
in China. The country's roads are clogged with coal
trucks headed from mines to power stations. Earlier this
month, there was a 40-mile traffic backup out of the
major coal-mining region in Shaanxi province. Trucks
were taking a week to get down the main highway, which
carries 160 million tons of coal a year. Last year,
10,000 vehicles were stuck for days on another coal
road, out of Inner Mongolia.

Meanwhile, India's coal consumption has doubled in 12
years. It is expected to have three times as many coal-
burning power stations by the end of the decade. India,
like China, has huge coal reserves of its own. But its
economy is growing so fast that its miners cannot dig
the stuff out of the ground quickly enough, causing a
surge in imports. South Africa's Richards Bay is a major
supplier, along with Australia and Indonesia, which is
likely to become the world's top coal exporter before
the decade is out.

None of this excuses the West. The U.S. remains the
world's second-largest coal burner, after China. Japan
is the world's largest coal importer, and Germany is the
biggest producer of brown coal. The sad truth is that
Germany's plan to shut down its nuclear power plants in
the wake of the Fukushima accident in Japan is already
resulting in resurgent investment in coal. Analysts
Point Carbon predict that the switch will increase
German CO2 emissions during the coming decade by around
half a billion tons.

Why doesn't the world care? One reason is expediency.
The inconvenient truth is that coal remains the world's
cheapest fuel for electricity generation and industrial
heat and power. Another is coal's PR.

"Clean coal" is its cleverest piece of sophistry. Lobby
organizations like the American Coalition for Clean Coal
Electricity - sponsored in the past by BHP Billiton,
Duke Energy and others - use the phrase to foster the
idea we can have both our coal and our climate. Most
insidiously, the industry has persuaded many
policymakers that dirty coal today can pay for clean
coal tomorrow.

Clean coal is a distant vision, which could someday be
possible through a technology known as carbon capture
and storage - in which CO2 is stripped from stack
emissions, liquefied and buried underground. But large-
scale deployment of what would be a massive new industry
is at least a couple of decades - and tens of billions
of R&D dollars - away. And industry will only do it if
forced.

Moreover, since the economic downturn in the West,
investment in the necessary R&D to develop the
technology has dried up. In September, the International
Energy Agency warned that government support for CCS
around the world was waning. "With current policies, CCS
will have a hard time being deployed," the agency's
deputy executive director, Richard Jones, told a high-
level meeting in Beijing. Steve Chu, Barack Obama's
green-minded energy secretary, warned at the same
meeting that "we are losing time. It is very important
that we get moving."

In the U.S., the FutureGen clean-coal pilot project has
been stalled since the Bush administration pulled the
plug and ordered a re-evaluation in 2008. Under Obama, a
test well is being drilled in western Illinois, but the
first carbon won't be buried until 2016 at the earliest.

In Britain, once in the vanguard of action on climate
change, the government is scaling back its green energy
investment. An early casualty was its flagship $1.6-
billion CCS project in Scotland, which was canceled
earlier this month. That represented four wasted years.
Denmark also canceled a pilot carbon storage project
this month.

Nobody expects a UN climate deal in Durban this year -
nor next year, nor the year after. But meanwhile the
coal keeps burning. Global production is set to rise by
35 percent in the coming decade, according to industry
analysts. The cheapest, most abundant and dirtiest of
all the fossil fuels is extending its grip on the
world's energy supply system. And nowhere more so than
just up the coast from Durban.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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