Monday, July 04, 2005

King coal and the climbing lord

"Carbon sequestration is of paramount importance. Coal is the cheapest and most accessible fuel that developing countries can use to meet their burgeoning energy needs. Uncontained coal emissions from these countries could swamp the reductions made by the west. It is reported that China is commissioning a new, 1GW coal-fired power station about every five days. Any global emissions plan that does not address coal will not work".

So writes Ron Oxburgh, Shell's non-exectuive chair in his article in the 4 July Financial Times (here).

When I asked him last week at the Royal Society what should be the take home message for the G8 leaders on climate, he stressed this: "unless they get to grips with coal" he told me, "the game's over".

At the Royal Society - but not in today's FT piece - he said that the challenge with carbon capture and storage was not in his view a technical one. Rather, it was rather one of public perception - but to be taken none the less seriously for that.

During that lecture Oxburgh put up two graphs. The first showed world oil and gas reserves - with the distribution we all know so well, overwhelmingly in the middle east and to a lesser extent in other parts of the world outside the US, China, India and Europe. The second showed world coal reserves, and on this chart the US, China and India had the overwhelming majority of the reserves (the graph did not show Europe, but Europe has significant reserves too).

It articulated his point effectively: that the geopolitics of fossil fuel reserve distribution would press overwhelmingly towards the use of coal.

As "Michael Davies" has said ahead of many others, the Chinese, the Indians and others are going to burn those reserves so we sure as heck had better find a sequestration solution, whatever else we do.

I was surprised when Simon Retallack (after the Ashden awards later that evening, and who is among those who liked the oD climate debate) was unimpressed by this point, at least as I communicated it.

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