The World Today for December 17, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

A Global Addiction

WORLD

At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last month, more than 40 countries pledged to phase out their use of coal. Richer countries expect to end coal burning in the 2030s, the BBC reported. Developing nations have set a 2040s deadline.

China, India and the US didn’t opt into the agreement, however. India agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal, for example, wrote National Public Radio. Diplomats viewed the shift as a compromise. Environmentalists were deeply disappointed. Coal is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The black, combustible sedimentary rock that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the US in the late 18th and early 19th century is proving to be a thorny subject for world leaders, businesses and activists. Nearly everyone agrees that the world must wean itself off coal. But doing so is easier said than done. As the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration explained on their website, “Coal is the most abundant source of electricity worldwide, currently providing more than 36 percent of global electricity.”

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In the long term, the future of coal is bleak. China has stopped funding the construction of coal plants overseas. The US has done the same. But today, after significant reductions in emissions during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, coal-burning has surged back along with world economic growth, Deutsche Welle reported. Even as the US and Europe decrease their coal burning, Asian countries will likely pick up the slack as they race to develop their economies, added the World Economic Forum.

Low coal supplies helped cause electricity shortages as the pandemic waned in China, which accounts for more than half the world’s coal consumption, CNN wrote. Factories were forced to cut production. Reports of folks stuck in elevators embarrassed leaders in Beijing. It’s not surprising that Chinese officials promptly ordered up more mining.

Such problems are not limited to Asia. North Macedonia is planning to import coal from Kosovo to deal with energy shortages in its antiquated energy grid, according to Reuters. Household electricity prices in North Macedonia, meanwhile, are slated to rise by 10 percent in the new year.

Change is coming, however. In Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison has long defended the country’s powerful coal industry, homeowners are forecast to install rooftop solar panels on nearly half the country’s houses in the next decade, Bloomberg reported. Australia is therefore expected to cut coal consumption faster than earlier estimates suggested. Morrison is now in the odd position of pledging not to shutter coal-fired plants too quickly, the Guardian explained.

He and other leaders are hanging on tightly when many believe it’s time to let go.

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