UN tells coal sector to leave reserves in the ground

The United Nation’s top climate change official is calling on the coal industry to look past next quarter’s bottom line and see the next generation’s bottom line.

Speaking to the International Coal and Climate Summit, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres said the coal industry can and must drastically transform itself to combat climate change.

“We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent,” she said.

“Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.”

Figueres explained that human-generated climate change is real and accelerating and warned if changes aren’t made to how companies meet energy needs the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degrees Celsius will be overshot.

She said to meet this goal the industry needs to look at diversifying beyond coal, noting the bottom line for the atmosphere is that most existing coal reserves will have to stay in the ground.

“By now it is abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can only go ahead if they are compatible with the 2 degree Celsius limit,” Figueres said.

“Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewables, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to do this to join them.

“By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security, and creates new jobs.”

Pointing to a building groundswell of climate action and climate change-related policies at all levels of government and society she urged the coal industry to assess the financial risks of business as usual.

“The IPCC’s findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate,” she told high level coal company executives,” Figueres said.

“All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you cannot afford to ignore.”

She suggested the coal industry look at leveraging technology to reduce emissions immediately across the entire chain of coal output. 

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