WASHINGTON – The Paris climate talks may end up with new carbon reduction commitments made mostly by Europe and America. But the reality is that the largest developing countries (China, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia), plus Japan and South Korea rely and will continue to rely on massive use of coal, the worst possible fossil fuel in terms of noxious emissions.
Coal is up
Data from the WSJ indicate that China uses coal for 66% of its electric power generation. In India the percentage is 56%, in South Korea it is 31%, in Japan 28%, in Indonesia 35% and in the Philippines also 35%.
In the US coal is trending down because of the competition created by cheap natural gas. Still, even with reduced consumption levels, coal is used for about 30% of American electric power generation.
Even with the best of intentions, in Asia it will be really hard to displace coal as the main electrical power generation fuel. For instance, in China renewable energy is only 2% of total power generation. There you have it. Coal 66%, wind and solar 2%. A long, long way to go before renewables will catch up.
More coal-fired plants
And, in reality, in Asia there is no plan to cut coal consumption. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. As world leaders convened in Paris to make solemn pledges to curb carbon emissions, in Asia coal plants construction is up. Japan, a G7 member, will build several new coal-fired plants. (The Japanese claim that the new generation of coal plants they designed will be much cleaner. Still, they will produce emissions).
And this is only a part of the story. According to the WSJ, the Philippines is planning“to open 23 coal-fired plants over the next five years to meet rising electricity demand”. If this construction plan will be executed, the Philippines will become the most coal dependent nation in Asia. Vietnam will also increase coal use, and so will Indonesia.
In Paris, just talk
Anyway, you get the picture. The Paris talks would like to get to a global agreement that will move the world away from carbon. In reality, large parts of the world are moving exactly in the opposite direction.
But why is that? Why so much coal use, when everybody seems to agree that it is the main source of the emissions that cause greenhouse gases at the root of global warming?
Coal is cheap
Very simple, Because coal is abundant, and very, very cheap. And what about emission free renewables? Well, they are coming along. But slowly. And this is mostly due to the fact that, while prices have come down, wind and solar are still considered too expensive in many parts of the world. (According to the WSJ, renewables make up only 2% of power generation in China, 2% in India, 3% in Japan, 1% in Indonesia, 0.5% in South Korea).
In the end, whatever their governments may be pledging in Paris, the fact is that emerging countries want economic development first. For that, they need electricity. And, so far, dirty coal is still the cheapest option.
For those who believe that global warming is a real planetary emergency, these Asian energy policies amount to reckless behavior. However, the fact is that no Western government will seriously commit to a large enough plan aimed at subsidizing green energy deployment on a global scale.
Therefore, until renewable energy becomes truly affordable, (let’s hope soon), expect more coal-fired plants coming on line.