31 OCT 2011: ANALYSIS
Despite all the talk about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the world is burning more and more coal. The inconvenient truth is that coal remains a cheap and dirty fuel — and the idea of “clean” coal remains a distant dream.
This year’s UN climate negotiations are in Durban, South Africa. Many delegates will already be looking forward to the chance of going on safari after their labors, visiting Kruger National Park or one of the country’s other magnificent game reserves. But I have another suggestion. Visit the enemy. Just two hours’ drive up the Indian Ocean coast from Durban is Richards Bay, a huge deep-water harbor that is home to the world’s largest coal export terminal.
Anyone seduced by the conference exhibition halls in Durban, filled with the latest renewable energy technology, will get a rude awakening at Richards Bay. For it may tell the real story of our energy futures — and it is scary.
King coal is extending his kingdom. So dysfunctional is the world’s response to climate change that every year, the dirtiest fuel of them all is generating a growing proportion of the world’s energy.
All the talks in Durban will be of how to kick the coal habit. But as the climate talks have dragged on — from Nairobi in 2006 to Bali to Poznan to Copenhagen to Cancun and now to Durban — we have been hardening our addiction.
When the talks began half a decade ago, 25 percent of the world’s primary energy came from coal. The figure isnow 29.6 percent. Between 2009 and 2010, global coal consumption grew by almost 8 percent.
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