Coal Said Top Enemy in Fighting Global Warming

OSLO – Cheap coal will be the main enemy in a fight against global warming in the 21st century because high oil prices are likely to encourage a shift to coal before wind or solar power, a top economist said on Thursday.

Coal emits far more greenhouse gases, blamed by most scientists for a rise in world temperatures, per unit of energy when burnt in power plants or factories than oil or natural gas.

“The most important environmental problem in the 21st century is coal, or you could say coal is the most important enemy,” Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told Reuters.

“Coal is cheap, it is plentiful and it is quite evenly distributed over the entire planet,” he said, noting that oil was more concentrated in a few regions such as the Middle East.

Many countries, led by the United States, are trying to create “clean coal” technologies to strip heat-trapping gases from the exhausts of power plants or factories. The gases could then be buried below ground.

“Coal plays an important geopolitical role, and for the next 300 years it will be plentiful,” he said. With oil prices above about US$50-US$60 a barrel “then it is competitive to go from liquids to coal”.

Electricity can be generated more cheaply and easily from coal than from renewable energy sources.

Without restraints on greenhouse gases from coal “the next substitution process is not from oil to wind power, or to solar power or to biomass,” he said. “The next step would be liquids to coal,” he said.


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