56 experts including James Hansen back coal mine moratorium

Famous climate scientist supports Kiribati president Anote Tong call for no new dirty fuel production, ahead of Paris climate summit

James Hansen speaking at a rally in New York, 2011 (Flickr/Adam)

James Hansen speaking at a rally in New York, 2011 (Flickr/Adam)

By Megan Darby

More than 50 scientists, economists and other experts backed calls for a moratorium on new coal mines in an open letter on Friday.

These included renowned climate scientist James Hansen, adviser to the Pope and professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow.

Days before a UN summit in Paris, at which countries are set to finalise a global climate pact, they expressed solidarity with Pacific island nations.

They wrote: “The scientific evidence is clear: to prevent severe and potentially catastrophic damage to human health, economic development and global stability, the world must as soon as possible start using less coal.

“Consistent with the rapidly shrinking carbon budget, the vast majority of coal reserves are unburnable and must stay in the ground. In short, there is no space for new coal.”

While they did not name names, Australia, Malaysia and India are among those with mining expansion plans. Coal companies are counting on demand growth from emerging economies, mainly in Asia.

The letter follows an appeal from Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, to world leaders in August. At an average height of 2 metres above sea level, his island home is acutely vulnerable to sea level rise caused by melting ice caps.

A ban on new coal mines would be “one positive step” to address climate change, Tong said.

Another 11 Pacific island states agreed, along with 61 prominent Australians and, this week, nine Swedish experts.

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Analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative underlines that new coal mines are incompatible with an international goal to limit warming to 2C.

But Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last month defended plans for massive mines in Queensland.

“Coal is a very important part, a very large part, the largest single part in fact, of the global energy mix… and likely to remain that way for a very long time,” he said.

India too is resistant to any constraint on its development. With more than 500 coal-fired power stations in the pipeline, it sees the cheap and dirty fuel as critical.

The country plans to open a major new coal mine every month up to 2020.

Writing in the Financial Times, prime minister Narendra Modi’s chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian accused the west of “carbon imperialism” in its efforts to choke off support for coal.

Major insurers Allianz and Axa, plus Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, have committed to withdraw investments from coal companies on climate grounds.

The World Bank policy is to only fund coal projects in “rare circumstances”.

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