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Despite warnings to humans, fossil fuels continue to remain steadfast and have damaging consequences. Burning of coal, for instance, not only leads to air pollution but deaths too.
A February 2020 report says that burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, oil and gas, causes about 4.5 million deaths every year worldwide.
Global air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs $8 billion each day, more than 3 per cent of the value of goods and services produced daily, as people fall sick, miss work and need medical care, the report added.
But freezing temperatures and a supply-led gas rally have led to a spiral in demand for thermal coal, with prices at multi-year highs, reminding power suppliers and consumers that its appeal won’t fade.
The northern hemisphere weather has highlighted coal’s relative endurance, some 200 years after it was powering the first Industrial Revolution, even as several countries abandon the fuel to decarbonise and meet climate change targets.
In Asia, liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply issues and cold weather have sent prices rocketing, pulling US and European gas prices higher.
The world plans to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than would be consistent with curbing global warming, the United Nations and research groups said in the latest warning over climate change.
Some of the largest fossil fuel producers in the world, including Australia, China, Canada and the United States, are among those pursuing major expansions in fossil fuel supply.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations have committed to a long-term goal of limiting average temperature rise to below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5˚C.
The 1.5˚C target requires fossil fuel production to decrease by around 6% per year between 2020 and 2030. That seems unlikely. Instead, countries are planning an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5˚C limit, the report said.
The International Energy Agency said in December demand for coal was set to jump 2.6% this year, after last year’s pandemic-led drop, as recovering economies will drive usage for electricity and industrial output.
“Power shortages and incredibly high spot gas prices this winter are reminding governments, businesses and consumers of the importance of coal,” he said.
Coal is the most polluting energy source if emissions are not captured and stored underground.
While that technology lags, most coal units around the world produce not only carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for global warming, but other pollutants harmful to human health.
Coal is far from terminal decline. It still accounts for 60% of power supply and nearly 250 GW of coal-fired plants are under development, enough to power Germany.
However, Malaysia’s CIMB Group Holdings Bhd on Tuesday committed to phase out coal from its portfolio by 2040, saying it was the first banking group in Malaysia and Southeast Asia to do so.
India has plans to boost coal output to reduce dependence on imports but inflows are likely to see robust growth this year, said ING Research.
In the United States, power generated from coal, which lost its crown to gas as the biggest electricity source in 2016, will jump by a record 14% to 871 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2021 from 2020 and 9% in 2022.
The fact is that coal still provides backup when electricity and gas supplies are tight and nuclear availability is disrupted. Eastern Europe, for instance, remains very reliant on coal.
As long as economic considerations trump ecological concerns, the battle for a clean environment may be a tough one to win.
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