The Future Of Coal Power Will Require Hard Choices

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By Christopher Joyce NPR

Next Monday, governments of some of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are scheduled to announce how much they’ll limit the emissions that warm the planet. That’s the deal they made at the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

Workers ride past cooling towers at a coal-fired power plant on the outskirts of Beijing. Such power plants are at the center of a debate about the future of energy production in China and the U.S.

No matter what cuts they promise, they'll all have to take a long, hard look at how much coal they use.

It used to be that coal was king in the U.S. But now, coal is guo wang — that’s “king” in Chinese.

“Coal is 80 percent of all power generation in China,” says Richard Morse, an energy analyst at Stanford University. “And the Chinese use of coal is really one of the largest drivers of global coal consumption and, hence, global emissions.”

The Top Source Of Greenhouse Gases

Coal is the biggest single source of greenhouse gases. China and India are now huge consumers of coal, and their appetite is growing. “As long as economic development is a priority,” says Morse, “I think climate takes a back seat, and in that situation, coal is going to win every time.”

That’s the conventional wisdom. But the deal made in Copenhagen may change all that. By Monday, as many as two dozen countries will have listed their emissions targets. China and the U.S. — the two biggest coal users — are leading the group. India is expected to join them, and so will South Africa — a major coal exporter.

So it's governments whose economies depend on coal who are now driving climate diplomacy by saying that they’ll cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

And that means these countries will have to wrestle with the coal conundrum — we can’t live without it, but we can’t live with it.

Read more at The Future Of Coal Power Will Require Hard Choices : NPR

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