Kings of the Coal Habit
- Two articles:
Kings of the Coal Habit
By Jeremy Leggett
The Guardian UK
Wednesday 05 September 2007
The fate of our warming planet hinges on six nations, and five of
them meet in Sydney this week.
Through his long years of greenhouse denial, George Bush must
have been particularly grateful to John Howard. The Australian prime
minister was quick to join Bush in refusing to ratify the Kyoto
protocol, and has batted for his country's coal interests as
trenchantly as Bush has batted for US coal and oil interests.
Now Bush has had to deal with the impact on American public
opinion of Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore's movie, and can no longer
afford to ignore climate change. Howard, contending with a killer
drought, is similarly finding that greenhouse denial is out of
bounds. The flow of Australian rivers has fallen by a staggering 70%
in recent decades. All Australia's major cities are in drought. The
"big dry" in the Murray-Darling basin threatens 40% of food
production. Global warming has become an issue in the January
Howard hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit
in Sydney this week. Bush will be one of the leaders attending.
Everyone who cares about the greenhouse threat should train a
microscope on their actions. The fate of human civilisation will
probably hinge on the fossil-fuel decisions of just six nations, and
five of them are members of Apec.
If we are to avoid tipping the planet over a widely accepted
danger threshold of 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon
dioxide, we can only afford to burn fossil fuels in a quantity
measured in low hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. Industry
estimates suggest that remaining oil deposits alone exceed this
figure, if we include unconventional sources such as Canada's tar
As for coal, the energy industry suggests several thousand
billion tonnes remain to be burned. Even if we believe fossil-fuel
proponents tend to exaggerate estimates of the size of deposits, it
is clear that most of the remaining coal has to stay in the ground if
we are to avoid climate catastrophe. Three-quarters of coal reserves
are in five nations: the US, Russia, China, India and Australia.
Add Canada, because of the scale of the oil deposits in the
Athabasca tar sands, and there you have it: the fate of human
civilisation will probably hinge on the resource decisions of just
six nations. Those who place their hopes in bolt-on adjustments to
the fossil-fuel status quo, notably carbon capture and storage
technology, face the problem that mass production of the necessary
technology is more than a decade off.
What can we expect of Howard, Bush and their fellow coal leaders
this week? Howard has said he will instigate a carbon-trading scheme
if re-elected, but will not be drawn on the all-important issue of
caps. Bush opposes an energy bill passed recently in the House of
Representatives that would place an obligation on electric utilities
to use more renewables and less coal. He is endeavouring to run his
own international negotiations in competition with the UN's
long-running Kyoto process. On this kind of running, it would be
surprising if the Apec summit offered any hope of the world kicking
the coal habit.
Would different leaders in the Big Six make any difference? In
Australia, Labor is ahead in the polls, but strong on defence of coal
interests. In America, the Democratic challenger Barack Obama, from
the coal state of Ohio, has co-sponsored a bill to boost technology
that makes gasoline from coal via a process that would be ruinous for
Meanwhile, those not in the coal big league and best placed to
lead the way to a different energy future are not doing so. In the
UK, coal use is rising, renewables investment is derisory, and even
investment in carbon capture and storage would pave but a short
stretch of motorway.
Jeremy Leggett is author of "Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the
Global Energy Crisis."
Deadlock at APEC Summit Over Climate Change
Thursday 06 September 2007
Sydney - Asia Pacific ministers are deadlocked over a common
statement on climate change to be issued by their leaders at the end
of a weekend summit, a Japanese official said.
"The gap among the members is still wide," the foreign ministry
official said on condition of anonymity.
Foreign ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
forum, which groups 21 Pacific rim economies, met over breakfast
hosted by Australian counterpart Alexander Downer.
"The foreign ministers stuck to their own principles on details
of a climate change statement," the Japanese official said.
"One group in particular remained opposed to introducing a
numerical target in the leaders' statement, although Foreign Minister
Downer stressed that the target is not binding."
Australia has put climate change high on the summit's agenda,
proposing a new approach that would veer away from the Kyoto
Protocol, the main international treaty on climate change.
Backed by the United States, it argues that Kyoto was flawed as
it did not commit developing nations - such as China and India - to
the same targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions as
Instead it wants a new framework calling on developing nations to do more.
The Kyoto accord expires in 2012 and the APEC summit is one of a
series of meetings at which plans for a post-Kyoto agreement on
reducing the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming are being
However, developing nations here are blocking US and Australian
pressure to agree a statement that would include targets for cuts in
They say work on climate change should be led by the United
Nations, which is hosting a key summit in Bali in December.
Global Warming: Too Hot to Handle for the BBC