By David Fullbrook
Yangon, Myanmar, August 25, 2016
“…if [Asia] implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished,” Mr Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, told the Climate Action Summit in Washington in early May.
Kim’s concerns about plans by China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam to build three-quarters of the world’s new coal-burning power plants by 2020 were widely reported. His frank departure from prepared remarks coincidentally followed research indicating that the world is on the brink of mean global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius.
In April, Ms Lindee Wong and colleagues at Ecofys, an energy, renewable energy and climate change consultancy in the Netherlands, found that new, high-efficiency, low-emissions coal power plants — even with costly capture and storage technology to pump greenhouse-gas emissions deep underground — would push global warming beyond 2°C.
The findings are cold comfort. In February, an Oxford University research team led by Mr Alexander Pfeiffer concluded that for an even chance of staying below 2°C, power plants built after 2017 must be zero carbon.
In other words, if coal or gas-fired power plants are built after 2017 they must capture and store carbon emissions, an immature process not yet ready for thousands of planned fossil-fuel power plants.
If new power plants do not emit greenhouse gases global warming may stay below 2°C. Locally, however, in many places warming will exceed 2°C, bringing more of the soaring temperatures and drought experienced throughout much of South and Southeast Asia in 2016. Beyond 2°C, much more stress is expected for food, water and security, research has shown.
How the world responds to that risk has great implications for policy, planning and investment in energy, the primary source of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions. The question of fossil fuels – specifically coal – and the 2°C goal poses the first litmus test for the values, ambitions and commitments of last December’s Paris climate conference.
Read more at Frontier Myanmar