Climate change is a serious problem facing the entire world, and if we want to get serious about addressing the issue, we have to be willing to make real changes to our way of life. That may well mean adjusting how we go about generating power. To that end: According to Bloomberg News, a panel of scientists convened by the United Nations has issued a series of recommendations regarding the future of the world’s coal consumption. The hope is that by relying more on renewable energy and less on burning fossil fuels, the planet can reduce emissions moving forward.
The long-term goal is to limit total global warming since the start of the industrial era to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The UN panel, which included many of the world’s top climate scientists, concluded that to hit that target, utilities between now and 2030 would need to consume only one-third the amount of coal they do currently. This is a strong affirmation of the game plan laid out three years ago by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“It’s certainly a very ambitious target,” said Tim Buckley, director of energy studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Will we see it happen by 2030? Probably not—not in any models we’re seeing at the moment. But thanks to technology, the markets are moving away from coal really fast.”
Climate change is a growing issue on a global scale. The UN group observed that the world has warmed by almost 1 degree Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s, and now that technological growth is accelerating, that number will start to grow more quickly. Realistically, the best the planet can hope is to keep that increase under 2 degrees before eventually—hopefully—stabilizing it. Curbing coal consumption should play a key role in that effort, as coal is currently responsible for about 27 percent of the world’s energy use.
The coal industry, however, is likely to fight against such efforts. Coal business leaders have already begun arguing that limiting access to their fuel will slow economic growth by stifling people’s access to affordable electricity worldwide.
“It seems to me very unlikely that we will want to use substantially less energy in the future,” said Brian Ricketts, secretary general of the European Association for Coal and Lignite. “Using energy has allowed us to progress. Using more energy is necessary to create a better world for everyone.”