Coal is not as cheap as you think, says OECD chief

Resist urge to build new coal-fired plants now, or strand more assets later, Angel Gurria tells countries

A (Source: Flickr/Cathy)

(Source: Flickr/Cathy)

By Alex Pashley

Governments should rigorously evaluate the true consequences of coal as lower prices spur investments in the dirtiest energy source, the head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has said.

Slumped energy prices are incentivising the building of new plants, threatening to lock in decades of dirty development, Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the rich club of 34 countries said on Friday.

“Coal is not cheap,” Gurria told a lecture at the London School of Economics. “Or at least, it is only cheaper if you ignore all the costs it imposes.”

“Governments need to be seriously sceptical about whether coal provides a good deal for their citizens.”

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Coal-fired electricity generation doubled between 1990-2013 according to the IEA, with the black rocks forming the muscle in industrialising countries like China and India.

But without measures to curb production, coal alone could eat up around half the remaining budget of CO2 the atmosphere can withstand to avoid dangerous climate change.

A crunch summit in Paris in December should clear “directional signals” that countries should move to phasing out fossil fuels.

If the world is serious about keeping warming to a 2C internationally agree goal, it would need to think about “stranded assets” and “stranded communities” also, with 7 million people employed in the industry globally.

Rich countries must mobilise funds to make renewable energy affordable for poor countries, leapfrogging fossil fuels to clean energy development, he added.

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