Peabody chief questions climate science, backs ‘clean coal’

Greg Boyce outlines “five point plan” to accelerate transition to low carbon economy based on carbon intensive fuel

(Pic: PwC)

(Pic: PwC)

By Megan Darby

The chief of the world’s biggest private coal company has attacked climate science in defence of his polluting product.

Amid dire warnings on the coal sector’s future, Peabody Energy’s Greg Boyce is insisting high electricity bills are a bigger concern than climate change.

He presents “clean coal” – a description that was banned by a UK advertising watchdog as misleading – as a solution to energy poverty in the US and abroad.

Hitting out at “flawed” climate models, Boyce all the same proposed a five-point plan to “accelerate the transition toward a low-carbon energy future”.

Boyce claimed: “The greatest problem we confront is not an environmental crisis predicted by flawed computer models, but a human crisis that is fully within our power to solve.”

Peabody shares have plummeted in the past five years (Source: Yahoo! Finance)

Peabody shares have plummeted in the past five years (Source: Yahoo! Finance)

The defensive strategy comes as investors are increasingly concerned coal mines and power stations could be “stranded” by climate action.

As governments seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, carbon-intensive coal power generation is falling out of favour.

While coal demand is growing in some developing countries, notably in Asia, the trend has been slower than miners expected.

Coal prices on the global market have halved in the past five years. Peabody’s share price has slumped from highs of US$70 in 2011 to less than US$5 today.

Blog: A 7-step plan to avoid stranding your fossil fuel assets

It is in this context that Boyce has resorted to openly rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change.

That is a tactic oil companies used to deploy, but have largely abandoned in favour of more subtle arguments.

Scientists say unabated fossil fuel use must be phased out well before the end of the century to limit global temperature rise to 2C – the international goal.

In somewhat mixed messaging, Boyce said “we can achieve our environmental goals” but this should not involve carbon caps, carbon taxes or renewable mandates.

These would “hurt people and cripple economies for negligible environmental benefits”, he contended.

While it avoided overtly challenging climate science, Anglo-Swiss coal giant Glencore also dismissed the risk of stranded assets in its sustainability report this week.

Instead, CEO Ivan Glasenberg argued that demand for low cost energy would trump efforts to prevent dangerous global warming.

“Some of our stakeholders are concerned about the future of our fossil fuel reserves; in particular that they may become stranded assets,” Glasenberg wrote.

“We do not believe that the global energy reality will economically support carbon measures that would prevent us from fully utilizing our fossil fuel reserves.”

Read more on: Energy |