Rising Global Coal Use Dooms Carbon Dioxide Goals
by H. Sterling Burnett
Stories at Vox.com highlight the main problem facing those hoping to stem the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. While the fortunes for coal-fired power plants in the U.S. have declined under President Barack Obama, internationally, coal power is resurgent. According to BP’s Statistical Review of Energy, coal consumption has been accelerating worldwide since the end of the 1990s. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports coal is the energy source of choice for a vast array of poorer, fast-growing countries around the world. “This renaissance of coal,” the authors write, “has even accelerated in the last decade.”
The world added about 626 gigawatts of net coal capacity between 2005 and 2013 with another 276 gigawatts under construction and more than 1,000 gigawatts in various stages of planning.
The authors point out coal is popular because it is often the cheapest energy option in many parts of the world. Vox admits, “On the upside, this boom has helped these countries lift themselves out of poverty.”
For climate alarmists, unless something changes, increasing coal use will make it impossible to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, coal accounts for approximately 30 percent of the world’s primary energy use; alarmists believe in order to fend off significant climate change, coal’s share of the worldwide energy mix would need to drop to below 10 percent in the next two decades.
That seems unlikely, with more than 2,177 coal units currently in various stages of planning or construction around the world, especially in such fast-growing countries as India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As Vox notes, “once a country builds a new coal-fired power plant, that plant generally lasts for 30 to 50 years or more. So the more coal plants the world builds, the harder it gets to reduce coal’s share – because of ‘lock-in’ effects.”
The PNAS study reports, “Developing economies now account for such a large share of global energy use that the trend toward higher carbon intensity in these countries cancels out the effect of decreasing carbon intensities in industrialized countries. If the future economic convergence of poor countries is fueled to a major extent by coal – i.e., if current trends continue, ambitious mitigation targets likely will become infeasible.”
Not all of these coal plants will ultimately come online. Since 2010, CoalSwarm/Sierra Club report for every coal plant actually built, two get canceled. Still, if only 1/3 of the remaining plants under construction or planned come online, an additional 719 new coal plants will be added to existing plants, some of which will likely be expanded and relicensed in the coming years.
The task of reducing greenhouse emissions during the next 50 years must seem daunting, if not well-nigh impossible, to climate alarmists.
For climate realists like myself, coal’s renaissance is good news: It means we can expect poverty to decline, life spans to increase, and well-being to improve for billions of people around the world who might finally gain access to welfare-enhancing, safe, reliable electric power supplies.`