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Not one but two climate change meetings are currently under way in Warsaw. You may be aware of the conference sponsored by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, another effort to agree cuts to carbon emissions after the failure in Copenhagen in 2009. In a provocative gesture, the Polish government is simultaneously hosting a summit meeting of the World Coal Association.
Whether we like it or not, it is the activities of the latter organization which have more significance for human health, wealth and the state of the planet.
Coal is no longer king of energy, it is global emperor. Coal is the fastest-growing source of energy and, according to the International Energy Agency, will remain the top fuel for power generation for the next two decades. Its affordability and accessibility will make it the electricity-generating fuel of choice in Asia, replacing expensive liquefied natural gas.
And while America clips the wings of its domestic coal suppliers, banning new coal-fired power stations that don’t meet stringent emission requirements, Europe has been topping up on U.S. coal, buying more in order to keep a lid on the escalating cost of power for European consumers.
Predictably, Greenpeace is protesting against the presence of coal industry executives, but it would be naive to assume that King Coal has turned up in Warsaw just to sneer at the failed efforts of the climate-change lobby. Coal miners are deeply worried – not just about climate politics, but about health.
The biggest threat to the coal industry in the short term is not carbon taxes or permits, but the likelihood of killer smog causing thousands of deaths in a big Asian city, probably in China. The Chinese Communist Party has already signalled that it will no longer put pollution issues on the back burner while it turns up the gas in the economy. A wealthier China wants to be healthier, and that is good for the environment.
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