The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard?

(New York Times, Hanoi, 24 November 2018) Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial age, has led the planet to the brink of catastrophic climate change. Scientists have repeatedly warned of its looming dangers, most recently on Friday, when a major scientific report issued by 13 United States government agencies warned that the damage from climate change could knock as much as 10 % off the size of the American economy by century’s end if significant steps aren’t taken to rein in warming. An October report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on global warming found that avoiding the worst devastation would require a radical transformation of the world economy in just a few years. Central to that transformation: Getting out of coal, and fast. According to the latest assessment by the International Energy Agency, it is not on track to happen anywhere fast enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. Last year, in fact, global production and consumption increased after two years of decline. Home to half the world’s population, Asia accounts for 3/4 of global coal consumption today. More important, it accounts for more than 3/4 of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages — a whopping 1,200 of them, according to ECA Watch member Urgewald, a German advocacy group that tracks coal development. Heffa Schücking, who heads Urgewald, called those plants “an assault on the Paris goals.” [OECD coal support abroad is mainly provided by national export credit agencies.]