Climate scientists gathered in Incheon, South Korea to review scenarios for 1.5°C average global warming may be poised to recommend a much faster phaseout of greenhouse gas emissions from coal, even as the United States tries to undercut the science behind the scenario report.
“Utilities by 2030 would have to consume just a third of the coal they burn now to hold global warming since the start of the industrial era to 1.5°C,” Bloomberg reports , citing a draft of the report to be tabled Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “The cut is more than twice as steep as the boldest scenario outlined by the International Energy Agency.”
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
“It’s certainly a very ambitious target,” said Tim Buckley, director of energy studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Will we see it happen by 2030? Probably not, not in any models we’re seeing at the moment. But thanks to technology, the markets are moving away from coal really fast.”
Coal currently meets about 27% of world energy demand, Bloomberg states, and the IEA sees that share dropping to 22% by 2040. “Under a bolder outlook that assumes quicker action to protect the atmosphere, coal use would fall to 13% of the energy market by 2040—almost double the proportion that the IPCC is weighing as a recommendation,” Bloomberg notes. While the IEA and the World Coal Association both declined to comment on the draft report, “coal industry officials say slashing access to their fuel will slow economic growth and leave millions of people trapped in poverty, unable to access affordable electricity.”
More realistic assessments show renewable energy undercutting coal plants on price and creating millions of jobs, affordable battery storage increasingly addressing intermittency concerns with distributed renewables—and climate science detailing the devastating impacts of further global warming on the communities and regions the coal industry purports to be concerned about.
Indeed, this week’s IPCC report “stemmed from concerns that island nations would be swamped by rising seas and more violent storms associated with global warming,” Bloomberg notes.
While many delegates work toward a more productive decision on coal than observers may have expected, Climate Home says  the United States is questioning the science behind the 1.5°C report, claiming that “most” climate models since the 1990s have overestimated global warming, and advocating nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage as primary solutions to the climate crisis.
“On the policy side of reducing emissions, I think there will be a lot of points of disagreement,” said  Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy at University College London. “If they fail to reach an agreement, it will be down to a fundamental division on climate justice between fossil fuel producers (and the U.S. administration) and more vulnerable countries such as small island states who feel their existence is under threat.”