John Kerry: investment in coal is “simply destructive”

Top US diplomat says subsidies for coal should be slashed, calls for action at G20 and APEC ahead of Paris climate talks 

(Pic: Flickr/State Department)

(Pic: Flickr/State Department)

By Ed King

John Kerry has made an impassioned call for more global efforts to address climate change, labelling investment in coal power “simply destructive.”

The US secretary of state told an audience at the Atlantic Council he wanted to “stop government funding” for coal and oil, adding it “made no sense” to invest in high carbon sources of energy.

Coal generates 40% of the world’s electricity and a third of all carbon dioxide emissions.

Demand is expected to break the 9 billion tonne mark by 2019, according to the International Energy Agency, sustained by high consumption in India and China.

According to a report by the Overseas Development Institute, much of this growth is supported by public funds, with G20 countries spending US$88 billion a year on oil, gas and coal exploration.

Kerry said the US would target “wasteful fossil fuel subsidies” at upcoming meetings of the G20 and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which count the world’s top coal users as members.

“Other countries should not go off and repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said.

“Coal and oil are only cheap ways to power a nation in the near term, but if you look down the road you see a different story. The costs of those outdated sources pile up very quickly.”

Two major new trade deals with Europe and Pacific countries under negotiation should include “high standards” for environmental protection, Kerry added.

Plants built using old and inefficient technology which emit 75% more CO2 than newer versions are cropping up across Africa and South East Asia, the IEA has warned.

With a lifespan of 40 years, these represent an obstacle to efforts to decarbonise the world’s energy systems by the middle to end of the century, as recommended by the UN’s climate science panel.

Kerry called for an era of “real cost accounting” where the price of rebuilding post extreme weather events was factored into energy policy.

“Any nation that says it can’t invest in the alternative needs to take a look at what it’s paying for,” he said.

“We can’t just include short term energy needs… we have to include the long term cost of carbon pollution – we have to factor in the cost of survival”.

A deal in Paris should set the world on course for an 83% drop in emissions by mid-century, he said, pointing to the US pledge to cut CO2 26-28% by 2025 on 2005 levels.

And he mocked political opponents who have claimed that decarbonisation would slow growth in the US, arguing it was the “biggest economic opportunity of all time”.

“We need more nations to follow suit,” he said.

“I invite all partners in industry, mayors, governments to announce their own targets, their commitments, so we can set an example and set a grassroots movement to success.”

Read more on: Climate politics | UN climate talks | US |