Coal-amity: Dirty power troubles

Written by Science

UN Secretary General António Guterres has called on Asia to quit its “addiction” to coal in an attempt to curb climate change.  

Asia suffer from something of a climate change double whammy: not only are its countries especially susceptible to climate-related flooding, they are also dependent on coal. With 75% of world demand for coal coming from this region, it would seem Asia’s hooked on the stuff that’ll hurt it the most in the long run, making “addiction” an accurate appraisal. Guterres complains that Asia plan to build a “meaningful number” of new coal power plants despite a report by Climate Central, a non-profit organisation in America which reports on climate issues, suggesting Asia house millions of people who could soon live below tidelines.

The report, which was released at the start of the month, claims that areas projected to be below high-tide lines by 2100 could be home to as many as 190 million people. Meanwhile, annual coastal flooding threats are set to hit six Asian countries with a combined population of 237 million, including China, Bangladesh and India. Previous estimates for how many people at future risk of coastal flooding were significantly underestimated, with over seven times as many people in India affected as first thought, over eight times in Bangladesh and twelve times in Thailand. Guterres said that although “people can discuss the accuracy of these figures…what is clear is that the trend is there”.

While it’s easy to be smug about our own environmental record – particularly since June, when the UK became the first major country to introduce a law dedicated to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and apparently, neither is the environmental policy. In Cumbria, the UK’s first deep coal mine in decades is still set to open, following a government decision not to put brakes on the plans. Ministers left it to Cumbria county council to make the final decision, prompting protests, but despite a sit-in at the council chamber the mine is still going ahead.

Tim Farron – former Lib Dem leader and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale (in south Cumbria) – called the decision “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change”, and that “Cumbria has so many renewable resources to provide energy – water, wind and solar – and we should most definitely not be taking the backwards step of opening a new coal mine”.

What was previously the last deep coal mine in the UK closed in 2015, and while the overall trend is still a fall in the use of coal power, the willingness of those both in Asia and the UK to not work towards a greener future should still be large cause for concern.

Last modified: 15th November 2019

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