As weary delegates enter week two of the COP19 talks in Warsaw, to wrangle over how to reduce emissions and curb climate change, the Polish government is sponsoring a parallel “International Coal and Climate Summit.” The Summit says it will “discuss the role of coal in the global economy, in the context of the climate change agenda.” Dirty energy such as coal is the single biggest driver of climate change. It will wreck the climate and with it any prospect of addressing hunger. So, in the context of the climate change agenda, surely the answer is clear: coal has no long term role.
The Polish government, which is well known for blocking EU attempts at taking stronger action is using the talks as a platform to sell the false solution of “clean coal” (surely a contradiction in terms). In a meeting with NGOs, the Polish Presidency went as far as to suggest Poland was a model for other countries, and that developing countries would like their idea of coal.
Electricity or food
South Africa has also liked coal for a number of years. In fact, more than 90% of its electricity is generated from coal, much of it low grade – so of the dirtiest type. But the country’s current coal-based model of development hasn’t led to abundant cheap energy for all of its citizens. Instead, about one third of poor households don’t have electricity, and those which are pay higher rates for electricity than big business. More than 20% of the population in South Africa is hungry or malnourished – a demonstration of the extreme inequalities within the country. And with electricity prices increasing cumulatively by more than 200% in the last few years, some people have to make stark choices between buying electricity or buying food.
Despite this, the South African government is in the process of building two of the largest coal-fired power stations in the world – and has just approved yet another one, dubbed “coal three’'. Meanwhile we’re seeing the cost of renewable energy fall, putting the prospect of cheap, clean and sustainable energy for all within reach. Developing without having to burn excessive amounts of coal should be at the heart of addressing the challenges of hunger and inequality.
Time for change
Rather than trying to sell false solutions to developing countries, Poland and other developed countries need to show that they’re serious about tackling climate change. But during this COP we see the opposite: on top of the coal summit we’ve seen big coal users Australia appear to step away from their commitments to reduce emissions by 25%, and Japan going a step further to announce they would increase emissions in the coming years.
It’s time to build the movements calling to an end to this madness. People in cities as far apart as Warsaw, Johannesburg and Sydney have joined us to call for governments to start investing in clean energy and a climate and food secure future – now.