It’s been quite a week.
In this lead up to the UN climate conference in Doha which starts Monday, there was news almost every day about soaring CO2 emissions and the threat of catastrophic climate change.
On Monday, the World Bank issued an exceptional plea for governments not to give up on the fight against dangerous climate change. Its report “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided", painted a dismal picture of what our world could turn into, during one lifetime, if current trends of atmospheric pollution continue. The world won’t be a nice place to live.
The main reason the global climate is currently headed for 4°C of warming is because of coal burning. Massive expansion in the use of coal has caused more than two thirds of the increases in global CO2 emissions in recent years.
Coal use could get much worse. On Tuesday, the World Resources Institute revealed something staggering: the coal industry is planning a total of 1,200 new coal-fired power plants globally. If all of them are built, the CO2 emissions of these dirty power plants would equal US emissions. All those new coal plants would make it impossible to keep global warming below catastrophic thresholds.
Then Wednesday, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) confirmed that we’re indeed slipping further away from where our emissions should be by 2020, if we are to stay below the dangerous level of 2°C of more warming or more.
In Doha, world governments are to continue the process they say might lead to a new climate pact by 2015. While that would help, the WRI report drives home a key point: the fate of the climate will be decided on the national and local level.
There is one simple conclusion: the majority of the proposed coal-fired power plants cannot go ahead.
Governments should be stopping them. If they don’t, then by 2015, the new coal plants could lock in more than 2°C warming.
Stopping the coal industry’s plan is not as daunting as it sounds.
Renewable energy is showing the way. The installation of renewable energy, mainly wind and solar, hit 31% of new power added to global electricity grids in 2011.
Tripling the installation of renewable energy from last year’s level, plus much more energy efficiency, could push new coal out of the market.
Denmark is showing posturing governments the path. It is moving to a 100% renewable energy system and will reach its goal of 200 MW of solar this year, eight years ahead of schedule.
Resistance to coal is also picking up. In the US, local movements, with support from Greenpeace, Sierra Club and others, have already prevented or closed down hundreds of coal-fired power plants.
The same has happened in Germany, Poland and other European countries. No new coal plant proposals have started construction after 2007. Even China, the biggest coal user, says it will limit its coal expansion.
So those 1,200 coal plants now being planned: they can be stopped. It’s not yet over for the climate.