2015: the year that coal broke

Intro

With Tesla kicking off a battery storage revolution, renewables booming globally, and the international coal market moving into structural decline, 2015 may well be the year the illusion that coal has a future in a carbon-constrained world is dispelled permanently. While countries like Australia and Japan are keen to gamble their economic and political futures on coal, the US, China, Germany and many others have recognised that promoting coal is like putting lipstick on a zombie, and are running away from it before it devours their futures. There is simply no space for coal, and the window to abandon it and save the world from irreversible climate change is closing. Banks need to, and are, abandoning coal projects; massive unfunded liabilities are emerging from coalfields throughout Britain; billions in value writedowns are pushing the Australian coal industry towards the abyss; and Goldman Sachs is attempting to sell its coal mines at a loss. The coal industry will not disappear overnight, but there is little doubt it is in terminal decline, and with its back against the wall it is getting desperate. Indian coal conglomerate Adani has been busted fabricating job and royalty figures in a desperate attempt to get its vast Carmichael mine off the ground in Australia, while US coal giant Peabody Energy’s billion dollar losses has seen it turn to faking social media support for a mendacious PR campaign to reposition its dirty product as a “moral” choice for solving energy poverty. Neither have had much success, as cheap coal is a lie, and it is absolutely not moral, and curbing its emissions will save thousands of lives. Without an economic argument, all it is left with is the damage it does to health, local environments, and the global climate.

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  • RT @StollMeyerEU: UN #climate chief says #science is clear: there is NO SPACE FOR NEW #COAL http://t.co/Z64RDWYVDZ #EnergyUnion #COP21

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Key Points

  • Coal is no longer cheap and dirty. Compared to renewables, it is expensive and dirty. Even with the coal price crashing, renewables are already beating it on price in many markets, and will soon beat it in every place on earth. Coal projects are stranding faster than commodity prices tumble, and companies are getting desperate. US coal giant Peabody continues to push a PR campaign to pressure leaders with faked grassroot support, while Indian conglomerate Adani has apparently taken to fabricating job and royalty figures to sell its proposed projects. Even the low estimates of 7.8 billion in royalties from its Australian mine are dwarfed by climate-related extreme heat impacts in Australia, with heatwaves costing Australian workplaces $7.92 billion a year. Moving to clean global economies will not only have huge benefits to health, jobs, and the environment, it will save vast amounts of money as social, environmental and health costs of climate change are avoided.
  • Coal is not a solution to energy poverty. Renewables are. Energy poverty is concentrated in rural areas, with those without access to electricity predominantly located in sub-Saharan Africa (48 per cent) and India (24 per cent). Carbon Tracker has found that grid costs in rural areas makes building centralised coal plants prohibitively expensive.  Given that 93 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to energy live in countries that do not produce coal, fuel costs make coal even less affordable. Distributed renewables are already improving the lives of those living in energy poverty.

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Key quotes

  • “The divestment movement may still be small but it is rallying young people, has moral authority, and can now make a prudential case as well as an environmental one.” Former UK climate change envoy John Ashton.
  • “[A]s the coal industry fights for survival, it has begun to rely on novel and increasingly tenuous arguments. It has embarked on a global campaign to promote coal as the solution to energy poverty. This disingenuous claim is predicated on the notion that coal is the cheapest way of providing electricity to the one-fifth of the world’s population lacking access to an electricity grid. This exploitation of an urgent humanitarian need to promote more coal-burning in poor countries is extremely misleading. If ever implemented, it would actually significantly worsen the condition of the 1.3 billion people mired in energy poverty.” Former US Vice President Al Gore, and global investment manager David Blood.
  • “The door is closing. I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.” Chief economist at the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol.
  • “[W]hy are we digging coal anyway, when we cannot afford to burn it? Climate breakdown is the greatest unfunded liability of all, for which future generations will have to pay.” British Journalist George Monbiot.

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More tweets

  • RT @ClimateReality: Coal is bad for our environment, health, and climate. There’s no such thing as clean coal http://bit.ly/1fsCrY1  #ScienceSunday
  • RT @CindyBax: The @adani Qld #coal project “unbankable”- even its own  finance expert admits wouldn’t invest  #savethreef #climate http://t.co/fuTWIZ8jEM
  • RT @TheAusInstitute: Queensland’s miners will need a miracle to profit from #coal now | John Quiggin http://gu.com/p/48vkv/stw  #auspol
  • RT @Renew_Economy: #Nuclear fans say humans can store radioactive waste, but not #solar energy. #Tesla just proved them wrong. https://shar.es/1pOjOc  #storage
  • RT @Starbuck: Check out @RAN’s new report card on the banks that finance dirty #coal projects.http://www.ran.org/coalreportcard #divest
  • RT @cindybax: Dear @peabodyenergy @AdvancedEnergy: @elonmusk just provided answer to #energy poverty #climate #coal http://t.co/Gh5d8XK24u