Friday, January 22, 2016

Coal - It does not make sense

Coal emits more greenhouse gas than any other fossil fuel. And climate scientists have long concluded that burning more coal will undermine efforts to limit the rise in temperatures. Scientists say the mining and burning of coal is one of the main drivers of climate change from human causes. But many developing countries, facing rapid increases in population and surging economic growth, see coal as a relatively cheap option.  

At present Pakistan depends on imported oil for 65% of its energy, while hydro makes up an additional 30% of the national energy mix: there are also three nuclear power plants, and wind and solar are fast-growing energy sources. Until now, Pakistan has not used the bulk of its coal reserves—some of the largest in the world—for power generation. Not anymore. Last month the government in Islamabad has signed a number of financial and technological agreements with China aimed at exploiting massive coal reserves at the Tharparkar mine in Sindh province, in the south of the country. Under the terms of the agreements, 3.8 million tonnes of coal will be produced each year at the Tharparkar open-cast mine to fuel a 660MW power plant and other facilities. The estimated cost of the project is US$2bn: China’s banks and private companies will supply US$1.5 billion in loans, while Pakistan will contribute US$500 m in both private and public finance. The energy produced by the lignite deposits, one of the least energy-intensive and most polluting types of coal, at Tharparkar will be mainly directed at helping alleviate serious power shortages in Karachi, a city of more than 20 million people which is Pakistan’s main industrial centre. Environmentalists say the new coal-powered power plants will only worsen the country’s serious pollution problem. Karachi is already among the world’s most polluted cities.

Despite government declarations that it would prioritise climate change, Pakistan has shown little appetite for tackling the issue. At the climate summit in Paris, Pakistan pledged to reduce its emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases by 5% over 2012 levels by 2030 – a figure sharply criticised as being far too modest by a number of the country’s own climate experts.  Pakistan is thought to be one of the countries most at risk from climate change: in recent years it has endured a number of floods and droughts, and in the summer of 2015 more than 1,200 people died in a searing heat-wave.

Another country which is regarded as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change is the Philippines and they are planning a total of 23 new coal plants to meet its demands for energy. For the Philippines, coal currently generates about 42% of the country's electricity, with the rest coming from locally-sourced natural gas and renewables, but coal's share could potentially rise to about 70% in a few decades, according to some projections.

President Benigno Aquino said that reducing the use of coal in favour of gas, a popular choice for many, was not an option because of a lack of gas-importing facilities. He said that although the Philippines had increased the share of renewables, costs had limited their appeal until recently. With solar, he said, "the price was considered too high so that it would bring up all of the electricity rates which would make us not competitive and will hamper the growth." The costs of solar had now fallen, Aquino said, but that still left the problem of the intermittent nature of renewables, which he then chose to spell out. "For instance, if we go to wind, are the wind turbines really working or not? Solar will get affected by cloudy conditions like this. Wave action is not yet developed sufficiently to be viable for the product mix. So what we're trying to do is ensure that we have the most modern coal plants that are in existence."

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the country's Senate Finance Committee said that "doing coal is a crime". 
"It's a crime against humanity, it's just bad. It pollutes the already vulnerable environment, and coal kills - it kills our air, it kills our biodiversity. Coal is never an option, coal is not cheap. We must put in the negative effect of the health of the people, the negative effect on biodiversity, the bad effect on the environment , the bad effect on business."

But even Legarda does not advocate closing down existing coal-burning power stations but says the global trend is to move away from coal and that her country should be part of that movement, particularly since its 98 million people are particularly vulnerable to a potential scenario of higher temperatures and more violent typhoons. “Why are we approving coal? It does not make sense. We are victims of climate change and we want to exacerbate it? We want to worsen the situation by doing more coal? It does not make sense."

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