How the UK can help kill coal

India should promise more on reducing climate change - and coal use - if it gets financial support to make the change, says Christian Aid principal climate change advisor Alison Doig.

india coalmine
Coal is by far the biggest emitter of carbon globally and the biggest global contributor to climate change. Image: Shutterstock

This needs to be the year that the UK - the country that started the industrial revolution 200 years ago by harnessing the power of coal - declares that it will end its use of coal for good.

Coal is by far the biggest emitter of carbon globally and the biggest global contributor to climate change. With so many modern clean technologies emerging to take its place, the time to say goodbye to coal has come.

But a recent report by Christian Aid partner Climate Action Network-South Asia (CANSA) shows that countries such as the UK, which have grown rich through exploiting polluting coal, need to go further than just ending coal use within their borders. They must provide financial and technological support to deliver a wider global solution to ensure growth and development can be achieved in developing and emerging economies in a low-carbon way.

In joining the campaign to end coal use coal in the UK, Christian Aid as an international development agency has been faced with two conflicting questions:

  • Why should the UK stop using cheap coal power when India and China continue to build new power plants?
  • Don’t poor people in developing countries need coal power to get their people out of poverty; shouldn’t that be the first priority?

The answer to the first of these, is to question how cheap coal really is.

If we factor in the external costs to the climate, to health through pollution and to the destruction of land and water during mining, the figures don’t look so good for coal.

China is expanding renewable energy at a rapid rate, in an urgent move to reduce air pollution in its cities. Also the majority of the world’s 1.4 billion people who do not have electricity live in rural areas far from an electricity grid. It is much easier and cheaper to take solar or wind power to them than to extend an already overstretched national grid.

To the second question, yes, poverty reduction has to be the first priority for all developing countries. But this objective does not have to conflict with achieving our climate objectives if we have a fair and equitable global climate deal at the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

This is outlined in the new report from CANSA, Ensuring sustainable growth for India in a fair global climate agreement.

As an emerging economy, India has ambitions for economic growth over the coming decades that will take it from its current lower-middle-income status, and towards becoming a developed country.

India is urging inclusive sustainable development so as to ensure decent living standards for its citizens. It has set a goal to achieve a human development index (HDI) of 0.9 by 2030. At present, its HDI is about 0.6, ranking 135 in the world. A level of 0.9 would put India on a par with EU countries.

One of challenges for the India is ensuring that its’ development goal can be met while global greenhouse gas   emissions reduce. In its report CANSA argues that it is a global responsibility that the total effort to stay on a pathway that is consistent with well below 2 degrees Celsius global warming and that it is the rich countries who must contribute the most

But the global community must also accept that the problem of coal dependence of emerging economies is not just an issue for individual countries.

This must include providing assistance to countries like India to be part of the solution. If the global deal was to adopt an ‘Equity Reference Framework’ which accounts for each country to take its fair share of the global effort to curb global warming, then this would support a truly universal solution to climate change which allows poorer countries to develop and be part of the solution.

Ahead of COP21, India must present its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, outlining its emissions reduction pledge and how this challenge can be achieved.

CANSA recommends that India pledge a two-tier INDC, which firstly offers to contribute unconditionally to the global effort to tackle climate change, in line with a clearly argued explanation of its fair share of global action; and secondly, offers to cut emissions much further than its fair share, conditional on being provided with financial and technological support, to help ensure the total global effort is consistent with a well below 2 degrees Celsius global warming pathway.

Although the level of carbon reduction required for India to fulfil its own fair share is much smaller than the levels for rich developed countries, it is still not a trivial amount and would draw on India’s political, institutional, financial and technological resources.

More importantly, the global decarbonisation challenge will require India to curb its emissions far beyond its own fair share of the effort, enabled by international financial and technological support. Inevitably, implementing it will require concerted attention and active cooperation by India.

But the global community must also accept that the problem of coal dependence of emerging economies is not just an issue for individual countries. The rich countries which caused the problem of climate change, and are acting too slowly to stop it, must recognise that they have to work in partnership with emerging economies to avoid the high carbon mistakes of the past, and to achieve thriving development based on clean, low carbon technology.

Only then can we stay within safe climate limits while providing a decent life for all. Only then we will be able to say that king coal is dead.

Alison Doig is Christian Aid’s principal climate change advisor. This article is republished from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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