No new coal unless its carbon is captured. The domino effect.

September 9, 2008 at 10:15 am | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Global warming | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,
Welsh coal fire in the National Museum of Wales 24 October 2007

Welsh coal fire in the National Museum of Wales 24 October 2007

“If we could just get one person, one leader, to stand up and say it, then maybe we could get a domino effect.” 

~ James Hansen in a recent interview (see Coal Must Be Phased Out to Avoid Dangerous Warming, Hansen Says) hoping any leader would have the guts to say something along the lines of:

“No new coal unless its carbon is captured.”

If there’s one thing worth fighting for in Britain and America and Germany right now, it is this: we need to encourage and support each and every leader who has the spine to make that carbon capture-conditional coal strategy statement an imperative.  This is required along with efforts to ensure effective policies are implented to attract investment in, and enable successful implementation of, carbon-captured coal-fired power plants as soon as possible.

Way back on 19 December 2007, almost nine months ago—a period which naturally can be compared with a pregnancy, yet hardly earns the title of a pregnant pause as nothing of consequence has been delivered in relation to this topic by the UK Government since Christmas—James Hansen wrote a key letter with an attached document, in which he stated clearly:

“the point is this: oil will not determine future climate change.  Coal will.”

Hansen addressed his letter (with its explanatory enclosure) to the British Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, and copied it to:

The letter Hansen sent to those British leaders and key influencers on 19 December 2007 began:

Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants in your country, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species.  Prospects for today’s children, and especially the world’s poor, hinge upon our success in stabilizing climate.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I attended a presentation on The Greening of Black Coal given by Peter Whitton, Managing Director of Progressive Energy, and Vice Chair of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA).  His outline of the investment characteristics of the UK power market made sense.  I came away with an appreciation of comparative risks, and can see how relatively easy it is for investors to opt for alternatives—that is, financing gas-fired CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine) power plants, or wind farms with the benefit of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), despite the large capital expenditures required—instead of backing CCS-capable coal-fired power plants.

Now, reading about the Advisory Committee on Carbon Abatement Technologies (ACCAT), this recent paragraph in the Minutes of the Advisory Committee on Carbon Abatement Technologies (ACCAT) meeting, 17 July 2008 on BERR website highlights some concerns (marked in red by me).  Unfortunately, this situation reminds me of what we went through with the Heathrow Consultation Document earlier this year (aaargh!):

5. Carbon Capture Readiness/Carbon Capture and Storage Consultation

Overall the Committee was generally positive about the consultation document although some felt that it did not address the longer term questions on deployment or the UK’s need for unabated coal and reduced carbon emissions. It was however noted that the consultation document did have a general Q1 about how to take forward CCS and the role that Government could play and this could give the opportunity for the ACCAT to express its views. The Committee agreed that it needed to respond to the Government’s consultation document on CCR and CCS. The approach would be for all members to identify the key 10 points they wished to make (cross referenced to questions in the consultation documents). These would be used to prepare an initial draft. The draft would be prepared as follows:

Nick Otter – General issues; Nick Riley – Storage; Mike Farley – CCR; and Tony Espie – Transport and Infrastructure.

Action: Committee members to provide initial bullet points by 4th August 2008, first draft by 18th August, a special meeting on 29th August to discuss responses and final draft to be ready by 12th September 2008.

Will Britain figure out how to tackle coal in time to mitigate climate change enough so we can avoid the worst emissions scenarios?  Certainly, the UK Government does not exude a sense of urgency, nor does it appear to be making the right noises, let alone setting the optimum policies to incentivise investment in CCS and ensure carbon capture is implemented for all new coal-fired power plants as fast as possible.  At the same time we need to be working to phase out all plants incapable of retrofitting for CCS.  The next 6 months will be critical.

As we approach 2015, Britain is on course to experience energy shortages unless we reduce consumption and ramp up supply significantly.  Obviously, ministers are worried about “keeping the lights on”.  Nevertheless, I still don’t see how keeping the lights on at the expense of increasing the world’s chance of irretrievable and significant damage to existing ecosystems upon which we depend (whether we acknowledge that or not) is worth it.  And our continuing climate abuse is certainly not fair to the rest of the world … 

Finally, the quote at the top of this post is one I found in a Bloomberg article:

Coal Must Be Phased Out to Avoid Dangerous Warming, Hansen Says

Hansen is issuing a call for global leadership on a massive scale which entails a degree of impact that is, presumably, an uncomfortable step for most current day leaders to take; far easier to stick to what is known than what is unknown, and focus on local decisions when global dangers loom.  On a global basis, the risks of climate change damage are so high that every leader should be determined, yet it seems only a leader with true courage and conviction as well as uncommon farsightedness can even consider taking on this coal-based climate challenge.  Is there no-one who can step up to the plate?

As James Hansen wrote in his letter, we have an imperative—a global imperative—to manage our use of coal from now on:

Choices among alternative energy sources – renewable energies, energy efficiency, nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture – these are local matters.  But decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured is a global imperative, if we are to preserve the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being.



RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage as a solution to that therefore enables us to continue to use coal, is a bandaid. Injecting the captured carbon into the land formation in such places as the Utah deserts in Carbon County, is untested ie… theory.
    If we spent as much effort and money on developing Solar solutions instead of attempting to bandaid existing fossil fuel technologies, we would allready have a Solar solution.
    SOLAR is the answer.

  2. Hello TJ,

    I agree with you that harnessing more solar energy is one of the components required to address our climate challenge, but solar alone cannot reduce carbon emissions to the degree that is necessary, as rapidly as required, despite large investment in the solar industry.
    Carbon capture and sequestration will still be required, because coal use will continue round the world, even if the UK and US were to phase out coal eventually. Unfortunately for our atmosphere, coal is abundant and cheap as well as producing high emissions per unit of energy! You only have to acknowledge, for example, Poland’s dependence on lignite (brown coal) and China’s burgeoning coal plant expansion to realise that solar is not going to beat coal as a cheap and easily accessible source of energy for a long time.
    Hansen is calling for coal use to be phased out—eliminated—unless its CO2 is captured. Carbon dioxide has been injected into offshore geological formations for years by oil and gas companies, though the process has not been proven on a massive commercial scale, and research into storage of CO2 in deep saline aquifers is ongoing, I would still not rule out CCS entirely as you choose to do.
    Mankind needs as many options as are viable to tackle the issue of climate change effectively. That’s why I agree with Hansen that a decision to phase out use of coal unless its carbon emissions are neutralised is a global imperative.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: