Global Coal Renaissance

That’s the most important climate change story today, according to Brad Plumer writing at Vox.

As proof he shows this graph about how the energy mix developed over the last 50 years. Coal is the grey part at the bottom.


It is true. Sadly, coal use is growing over that period. So are oil and natural gas.

The growth for coal is particularly strong over the last decade.

Obviously, that needs to change. The way to change it is to set some hard limits on production of fossil fuels.

Decide on a yearly world carbon budget for all fossil fuels and the yearly rate that budget will be reduced, just as has already been done in the European ETS system. Then put hard ceilings on the supply for each fossil fuel, as well as on the amount that may be imported to major markets. The EU could do that unilaterally right now for its own market.

Once that happens, prices for fossil fuel will go up. That is good, since it will speed up the transition to renewable energy. It is also good for the bottom line of fossil fuel resource owners, which in turn will make them inclined to support these measures.

The nice thing about this kind of solution is that it does not depend on developing new technology.

Some people think that it is impossible to solve global warming with existing renewable energy technology. Bill Gates is one of them. They say that the case is hopeless without some technological breakthrough or other.

There is nothing wrong with new technology. The price for solar has come way down because of mass production and advances in production technology.

But it is not a necessary condition for solar to beat fossil fuel. Regulation can make that happen immediately, even under circumstances where fossil fuel may be still slightly cheaper if you don’t count the global warming cost and assume that your solar panels will disappear without trace after 20 years.

That “Coal Renaissance” is going on for about a decade. In contrast, the original renaissance is a period in European history spanning from 1300 to 1700, according to Wikipedia. That’s 400 years.

If that “Coal Renaissance” holds up 400 years as well, this planet will be cooked. It needs to stop much faster.

It’s time to put a world wide ceiling on fossil fuel supply.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: