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World Leaders Urged to Kick Coal Habit to Save Lives, Money and the Planet
“Let Them Eat Coal,” a report by the international relief charity Oxfam, explains how it can be achieved without financial difficulty, and warns that continuing to burn coal will kill millions because of the food shortages that climate change will cause.
The report is endorsed by a group of scientists, politicians, industrialists, trade unionists and campaigners, who say that only with political leadership from G7 can the prospects of dangerous climate change be averted.
Weapon of destruction
It points out: “Each coal power station can be seen as a weapon of climate destruction—fueling ruinous weather patterns, devastating harvests, driving food price rises and ultimately leaving more people facing hunger. With these climate impacts falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable and least food-secure people, the burning of coal is further exacerbating inequality.”
It points out that G7 coal plants emit twice as much fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions as the whole of Africa, and that “rich industrialised countries must stop hiding behind countries like China and take the lead in kicking their own coal habit”.
Coal provides 41 percent of the world’s electrical power but 72 percent of power-sector emissions. The report details how it is now cheaper to invest in and produce electricity with renewables than in coal plants in G7 countries.
The report details how many ageing coal plants each G7 country still operates, and how the wealthiest countries of the world can switch to alternatives, while creating jobs and without losing money.
Few of the G7 countries have built new coal plants, so closing them down would not lose capital investment. Ironically, Germany, which sees itself as a world leader in renewables and is the G7 host, has opened massive new coal-burning plants and will take longest to phase out coal unless it is prepared to lose money.
The report concludes that, without financial loss, France could phase out coal by 2020, the UK by 2023 and Italy by the mid-2020s. Canada and the U.S. could follow by 2030, Japan by 2035 and Germany by 2040.
Apart from Germany and Japan, which have invested heavily in new coal plants, all G7 countries have an ageing fleet in which the original investment has long been repaid. For example, the average age of coal plants in the U.S. is 45, and in the UK it is 41. Even in Germany and Japan, most coal plants are of the same vintage.
The report warns: “Coal power plants are the biggest obstacle standing between us and the internationally-agreed target to limit warming to 2 degrees [Centigrade].
“G7 leaders meeting in 2015 can signal the beginning of the end of the coal era. By doing so, they can establish new momentum towards this year’s crucial UN climate talks in Paris and create thousands of new jobs in the clean technologies of the future.
“As the country-specific coal exit plans outlined in this paper make clear, this is not a pipe dream—it is a clear political opportunity that G7 governments can and must seize.”
Among those endorsing the report is Professor Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. He said coal-fired stations “increasingly look like weapons of destruction aimed at those who suffer the impacts of changing rainfall patterns as well as of extreme weather events. Getting rid of our addiction to coal is both possible and necessary.”
Dr Michael Grubb, senior research fellow at the Cambridge University Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, said: “The extraordinary irony is that study after study is showing that coal is bad for G7 economies. The damages associated with extracting and burning coal outweigh any apparent economic value—before even considering its impact on climate change.”
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?