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Coal and Climate – a Tale of Two Summits: UNFCCC Chief Figueres Addresses Coal Conference in Poland

Coal and climate don't mix. UNFCCC chief addresses International Coal Summit in Warsaw, Poland, one of the most polluting countries in EuropeCoal and climate in Warsaw

Perhaps one of the biggest ironies at the ongoing COP19 climate conference is the open acceptance of corporate sponsorship by Poland, this year’s host country for the talks – sponsors that are, as Giles Parkinson points out in RenewEconomymostly fossil fuel companies as Lotos, a Polish oil company and brown coal producer PGE.

In fact, Poland has a rather spotty record on climate, epitomized by the start today of the World Coal Association’s International Coal and Climate Summit – the “other” climate summit hosted by the Polish government that has called into question Poland’s own role in climate policy and raised the ire of more than a few environmental advocates.

Given that Poland depends almost exclusively on coal for its power production may make it no surprise that Poland would host an international industry “summit” essentially promoting clean coal, but the timing is another issue. In an open letter to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Fiqueres Greenpeace called the timing “outrageous”:

“It is outrageous that the World Coal Summit… will take place at the beginning of the second week of the climate negotiations…  We would not like events promoting the most polluting of industries to become associated with solving climate change. While we recognize that the focus of the Coal and Climate Summit is so-called “clean coal”, in our view this ranks among the most desperate of myths spun by the coal industry in a frantic bid to survive.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) also called out the unfortunate juxtaposition in Warsaw between COPO19 and the World Coal Association event:

“The summit’s focus on continued reliance on coal is directly counter to the goal of these climate negotiations,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for UCS, “which is to dramatically reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Every year countries come together at these negotiations to find a global solution to climate change, and yet our host is embracing a chief cause of the problem.”

Coal industry must radically reform

Questionably timed on purpose or not,  UNFCCC chief Figures took the opportunity to address the coal industry directly, saying the industry “can and must” radically reform and diversify to avoid the top-end, worst consequences of climate change.

 “Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake,” Figueres told the assembled coal company CEOs.

Speaking of the latest  Cimate Assessment Report recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fiqeures said:

“The IPCC’s findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate. We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.”

In her speech, Figueres made clear the existential nature of climate change, even for coal companies:

“All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you cannot afford to ignore. Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and shareholders. And by now it is abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can only go ahead if they are compatible with the 2 degree Celsius limit.”

Diversify, keep it in the ground

On the point of leaving coal behind as the best future for humanity, Figueres said:

“Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewables, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to do this to join them. By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security, and creates new jobs.”

“Look past next quarter’s bottom line and see the next generation’s bottom line.” 

Get the full  Figueres’ full speech to the International Coal and Climate

 

Image credit: CEE Bankwatch Network, courtesy flickr

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