If you had to distill the theme of almost every UN climate summit into one word, it would be “coal.” Coal is the perennial bogeyman of the Conference of the Parties, as it is at the event’s latest edition, COP27, now under way in Egypt.
By now there is essentially zero debate among governments, climate scientists and even the coal industry itself that holding global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is impossible as long as coal remains the single-biggest source of power generation.
It is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Last year, coal emissions accounted for at least a quarter of all planet-warming carbon dioxide output, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The good news is that 75 countries, representing 95 per cent of total coal consumption, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060, which means coal will have to be extracted from their energy mix fairly rapidly, at least in theory. The bad news is that coal is not going gentle into that sooty night.