NATIONAL AFFAIRS by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Rise in coal use makes climate summit irrelevant
, August 15, 2015
The growing use of coal for both electricity generation and for the production of iron and steel across the world makes claims that the forthcoming Paris climate summit will cut fossil fuel use around the world inconceivable.
Two anti-coal environmental groups in the U.S., the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, have recently published figures on the expansion of the use of coal worldwide. The figures appear in the jointly produced research paper, Boom and Bust, which purports to show that coal is in decline.
Its Executive Summary shows that the quantity of new coal production coming online has declined since 2013. But it also shows that between 2004 and 2012, the use of coal for power generation was extraordinary, so that the recent slowdown comes after a period of unprecedented growth.
It says: “From 2004 to 2013, increased coal utilisation outweighed all other sources combined, producing 62 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions growth.”
The scale of expansion is massive. While Australia has no coal-fired electricity plants under construction and the US/Canada have just three, there are 249 plants under construction in East Asia, principally China, and a further 140 under construction in South Asia, including India and Pakistan, and another 88 in South-East Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
The significance of this increase is that, as coal-fired power stations have a life of around 40 to 50 years, the increase in CO2 emissions from these stations will last until the second half of the 21st century.
Although growth has slowed down since the end of the explosive growth of coal use from 2004 to 2012, the rise in coal production in 2013 and 2014 was still higher than it had been before 2004.
The report says: “The pace of net coal capacity additions (new capacity minus retired capacity) worldwide remained around 20 to 25 gigawatts per year for over two decades, then abruptly tripled during the period 2005 to 2012 before receding in 2013. From 2005 through 2013, approximately 722 GW of new capacity was added.”
The meeting in Paris on CO2 emissions will be largely irrelevant.
While the Sierra Club/CoalSwarm report wants people to conclude that the days of coal are past, it confirms that the declining use of coal in the U.S. and Western Europe has been more than offset by increasing coal consumption in other parts of the world.
Much of the growth of consumption has occurred in Asia, particularly China.
The report says: “China uses coal for more than 70 per cent of its energy and in 2013 was the world’s largest coal producer and importer.
“The country’s coal burning alone currently makes up 20 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
“While China has accounted for 84 per cent of the growth in world coal consumption since 2000, the pace of construction has been declining since peaking in 2006.
“… Net coal capacity additions dropped from 78 GW in 2006 to 36 GW in 2013. In 2014 additions were 39 GW.” The 2014 figure is still much higher than in the period before 2004.
Coal use is also increasing in several other countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and India, more than offsetting reduced use of coal in the U.S., where old coal-fired power stations are being retired and replaced by oil and gas coming from increased shale production.
The authoritative BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2015 paper gives a further perspective on the issue. It shows that the use of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – has risen despite the efforts by the IPCC and Western European countries to cut the use of fossil fuels through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The BP report shows that use of natural gas and coal is increasing, while liquid fuels such as petrol and diesel are also expanding, underpinning the growth of transport industries around the world.
Interestingly, nuclear power – the bane of the environmental movement – produces very substantially more electricity than “alternative” sources such as solar and wind power.
Another study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [US], shows that the world is in the midst of a global “renaissance of coal” that is not confined to just a few countries like China or India.
Rather, it shows that coal is becoming the energy source of choice for a vast array of poorer and fast-growing countries around the world, particularly in Asia. “This renaissance of coal,” the authors write, “has even accelerated in the last decade.”
One important driver of this development, the report suggests, is that countries no longer need their own domestic mines to take advantage of coal power. International coal markets have become so robust, with exports surging in mining countries like Australia, Brazil and Indonesia, that it has become much easier for a wide variety of countries to build coal-fired power plants.
In light of the fact that new coal-fired power plants have been built around the world, and will be in production for decades to come, the idea that fossil fuel production will decline in the decades ahead is inconceivable, despite the views of the IPCC and climate alarmists.