President-elect Trump has promised to resurrect the coal sector — a move that is possible only if the carbon emissions released by the commodity can be captured and stored. The issue has been treated in Marrakech where countries met to discuss how they plan to comply with the Paris climate accord.
Coal is not clean. But that does not mean that it could not be made cleaner. And that’s relevant because much of the developing world will remain dependent on coal, as will most developed nations to a lesser degree. At issue then is whether carbon capture and storage is technically possible and if so, at what cost.
“Twenty-two countries have submitted climate plans that include a role for advanced coal technologies,” says Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association, “It is misguided for people to talk about how to get rid of coal. We need to be part of the solution.”
The association says that coal is now about 40% percent of the global electricity mix and that in 2040, it will still be 30%. The central question is thus how to make it cleaner as opposed to how to make it go away.
The Asian share of the global coal pie is now about 69% but that will grow to be 77% in 2040. Even China, which will reduce its coal usage from 75% of its electricity portfolio to 49% during this time, will still use 27% more coal because of its anticipated economic expansion. The United States, too, will depend on coal for 25% of electricity in 2040, says the International Energy Agency in Paris.
Sporton acknowledges that carbon capture and storage has been an elusive technology but says in the same breath that it remains within reach. To get there, national governments need to place the same emphasis on its development as they have on the expansion of renewables. Green energies, for example, have received $800 billion in federal subsidies while carbon capture and storage has gotten just $20 billion, all over a 10-year time period.
“The objective here is to reduce emissions,” Sporton says. “Governments are recognizing that carbon capture and storage has a role to play. This is not something that a lot of environmentalists want to hear. But coal is here for decades to come and they can’t wish it away.”