Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speaks at a press conference at the Warsaw climate change talks on 19 November 2013. Photo: United Nations

By John H. Cushman Jr.
22 November 2013

(InsideClimate News) – The smoldering debate over whether coal has a future in a low-carbon world has flared up with new intensity in Warsaw, the site of this month's annual United Nations negotiations toward a global climate treaty.

With world coal use growing at a staggering pace, top climate diplomats have used the global stage to take a much more aggressive stance against the coal industry. They are demanding that companies move quickly to leverage technology to capture and bury their planet-heating emissions or risk putting the world on a dangerous and irreversible path.

In a stern address to the World Coal Association on the sidelines of the summit, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN's Climate Change Secretariat, made several demands of industry: leave "most existing reserves in the ground," shut down the dirtiest coal-fired facilities and use carbon capture and storage (CCS) on "new plants, even the most efficient."

Her bottom line is that world's "carbon budget is half spent" at a time when the global expansion of coal is wiping out gains from clean energy. "The coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you can no longer afford to ignore," Figueres said.

That message has been echoed in one speech after another, and report after report, by a panoply of major international organizations and institutes with interests in energy and climate policy. The focus on coal power during the two-week talks is because of the industry's enormous global warming contribution. And it reflects how worried climate advocates are about the future—with nearly 1,200 coal plants on the drawing boards, mainly in developing economies.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared at a news conference that coal and other fossil fuel industries "will have to make green and sustainable investment decisions that will keep them in business, and us within the bounds of 2 degrees Celsius," the safe target at the heart of climate treaty deliberations. "They seem to be making a transition, but I have been urging them to make it faster," he said. [more]

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