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Even a global climate crisis cannot stop the world’s desire to burn coal.
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Even a global climate crisis cannot stop the world’s desire to burn coal.


Our planet is changing. Our journalism is changing too. This story is part a CBC News initiative called Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

The COP26 UN climate summit is currently in Scotland and aims to take decisive action to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity.

Alok Sharma, President of COP26, the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), is the person who coined the phrase “consign coal to history”. It’s supposed that this annual meeting will decide climate action under the COP. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The aspiration seems logical; for decades it’s been obvious that coal is a source of significant pollution.

The world’s leaders should slow down the burning coal. However, if they want to end the fate of coal-fired power stations, the recent months have shown how difficult it will be. The world’s desire to burn the black nuggets does not seem to be abating.

  • Questions about COP26, climate science, policy, or politics? Send us an email: [email protected]. Your input helps us improve our coverage.

Global coal demand is expected to rise 4.5 percent this year due to economic recovery. This is a rate that is higher than the 2019 levels prior to the pandemic.

One example is the Australian government has saidThe country would continue to produce and export coal “well beyond 2030.”

Canada is phasing out coal-fired power, burning coal remains the world’s favoured option to produce electricity. This is why there is increasing demand. almost everyAlready sold lumps of coal that U.S. miner will extract from the ground next spring

The record-breaking coal prices have reached record levels in many parts this year.

Ernie Thrasher, CEO of U.S.-based XCoal Energy and Resources said he “would have never envisioned,” the commodity price spike, during an interview with energy consultancy IHS Markit last month.

Thrasher said a rapid energy transition is “an aspiration and a goal that we should have,” but the current situation illustrates how “a dose of logic and reality is needed.”

“We haven’t seen the end of this”

The story of coal is, naturally, one of China.

It’s responsible for about two-thirds of the world’s consumption — and is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. It is crucial that it has reliable, low-cost electricity. This is because its economy is heavily dependent on manufacturing.

“We haven’t seen the end of this. It continues,” said Edward Cunningham, director of the Harvard Kennedy School Asia Energy and Sustainability Initiative, about China’s growing number of coal-fired power plants.

“If you were to ask me when ‘will we see China’s coal-fired power fleet halved from today,’ I guess my answer would be, I would be surprised if it was by 2040,” he said, during an episode of the Energy vs. Climate podcast.

Others are more optimistic. The IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol isn’t concerned about coal’s resurgence or a potential impact on the climate summit.

“The momentum will be much greater than that. He stated in an interview, “We will overcome that difficulty.”

Fatih Birol from the IEA speaks at a COP26 meeting in Glasgow. He doesn’t think that coal’s resurgence in this year’s climate talks is a concern. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal plant retirements have averaged 25 gigawatts per year since 2010. This is largely due the closing of aging plants across North America and Europe.

Alberta announced in 2014 that it would eliminate coal entirely by 2030. It was still relying on coal to generate 55 percent of its electricity. Now, the province believes it will be completely off coal by 2023.

Approvals for new coal-fired power plants around the world have slowed down dramatically in recent years due to a lack of affordable renewable energy options, growing awareness of environmental risks, as well as fewer financing options. According to the IEA, there are still 140 GW of coal-fired plants under construction, and more than 400 GW in various stages of planning.

“I’ve always said that every country starts from a different energy mix, but ultimately, pushing forward on clean power is something that benefits each country individually and us collectively as an international community,” said Sharma, the COP26 president.

Action on coal is key

At COP26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will stop exporting thermal coal by 2030. China and the G20 have agreed to stop financing coal-fired power generation overseas.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, commits to ending thermal coal exports by 2030

Trudeau, speaking at COP26 in Glasgow said that his government is working closely to stop the export of thermal coal by 2030. 0:58

There is much to be done for the world, but there is also stubbornness and inaction. It’s frustrating for environmental groups.

“A decision of COP26 must include a commitment to phasing off fossil fuels. It’s not good enough for the energy transition and fossil fuel production to remain a subtext of these conversations,” said Catherine Abreu, the Ottawa-based founder of Destination Zero.

She said that developed countries must make clean energy technologies more affordable and stop exporting coal.

According to the IEA, the average age of Asia’s coal plants is 13 years. This shows how many facilities still have a long expected lifespan. (In advanced economies, the average age for coal power plants is around 35 years, according to the IEA. If you shutter them early, you risk losing an asset or taking a loss on your investment.

Catherine Abreu, Destination Zero, states that developed countries must make clean energy more affordable for other countries. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

It is essential to tackle the coal conundrum if we are to make an impact on climate change. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, has described it as a “deadly obsession” because coal burning is the single biggest obstacle to achieving the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 C.

The commodity’s resurgence in this year’s market shows that the obituary of the commodity is far from being written despite the changes in the developed world. 

It may also demonstrate how difficult it can be for world leaders reduce emissions from less-intensive forms of energy like oil and natural gases, if countries don’t even try to tackle the worst fossil fuels.

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