Coal industry must diversify to avert worst impacts of climate change – UN official

Christina Figueres, Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Photo: UNFCCC

18 November 2013 – The coal industry must radically transform and diversify to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, a senior United Nations official said today at a meeting in Poland, stressing that companies must assess the risks of doing business as usual.

Addressing industry chiefs gathered in Warsaw for the International Coal and Climate Summit, organized by the Polish Government and the World Coal Association, Christiana Figueres said her presence at the meeting is neither a tacit approval of coal use nor a call for the immediate end to its use.

“I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake,” said Ms. Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The summit is taking place at the same time as the UN Climate Change Conference, also in Warsaw, and shortly after the release of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shows that human-generated climate change is real and accelerating.

“The IPCC’s findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate. We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent.

“If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius,” she told leaders.

Ms. Figueres said that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that it cannot afford to ignore. “Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and shareholders. And 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.”

She urged the coal industry to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual, to anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance and to leverage technology to reduce emissions immediately across the entire chain of coal output.

The industry also needs to diversity its portfolio beyond coal, she said, noting that the bottom line for the atmosphere is that most existing coal reserves will have to stay in the ground.

“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,” she said.

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