Coal is the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The burning of coal is responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector. If plans to build up to 1200 new coal fired power stations around the world are realized, the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from these plants would put us on a path towards catastrophic climate change, causing global temperatures to rise by over five degrees Celsius by 2100. This will have dire impacts for all life on earth.
Coal was the fastest-growing primary energy source in the world in the past decade: between 2001 and 2010, world consumption of coal increased by 45%. During the same time period, total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history. According to the International Energy Agency, to have a 50% chance of staying within 2 degrees celsius of global warming, only zero carbon utilities and infrastructure should be developed beyond 2017. This means that the age of coal must soon come to an end.
There is cause for hope. A growing global movement is challenging the coal industry’s expansion and promoting real solutions to electricity needs. Some governments and multilateral banks are beginning to recognize that the costs of coal generation are unacceptable and are rejecting financing for new coal plants.Grassroots activists have also started a burgeoning movement to pressure universities and institutional investors to divest from coal. To avoid catastrophic climate change, it is clear that we must end our dependence on coal and invest in affordable and sustainable renewable energy.