UN to Coal Industry: Radically Change and Diversify

Speaking to the International Coal and Climate Summit, organized by the Polish government and the World Coal Association, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres said the coal industry can and must radically transform and diversify to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Directly addressing the CEOs of major coal companies, Figueres said, “Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.”

The World Coal Summit, which is held in Warsaw from November 18 and 19, runs concurrent with the UN Climate Change Conference, which is also held in Warsaw from November 11 through November 22. Both conferences come on the heels of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which proves 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 the coal summit.

Figueres said that in order to make this radical transformation, further capital expenditure on coal could only go ahead if it is compatible with the 2 degree Celsius limit. She pointed to the groundswell of climate action and climate change-related policies at all levels of government and society.

“All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you 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.”

Figueres 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.

She also said that the industry would need to diversity its portfolio beyond coal, 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.

Ending her speech, she called on the industry to “look past next quarter’s bottom line and see the next generation’s bottom line.”


The speech by Christiana Figueres to the International Coal and Climate Summit can be found at: <https://unfccc.int/files/press/statements/application/pdf/20131811_cop19_coalassociation.pdf>


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