UN climate chief to coal industry: 'Leave most existing reserves in the ground'

United Nation’s climate chief Christiana Figueres urged the coal industry on Monday to diversify toward cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world's outstanding coal reserves in the ground.

Speaking at a controversial coal summit of the World Coal Association, hosted by Poland at the same time of an UN-led summit on climate change, Figueres said the industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.

"The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution," Figueres said.

She recommended CEOs present at the convention to start by closing outdated plants, followed by adopting carbon capture technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on all existing plants. Figueres also call the audience to acknowledge that much of the world’s coal will have to stay in the ground to stop global warming.

Ignoring this mandate, she said, poses a “business continuation risk” to the coal industry that it cannot afford to ignore. “Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your work force and shareholders,” Figueres added. “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 [the 195 members of the United Nations climate treaty agreed in 2010]."

World Coal Association hits back

The chairman of the World Coal Association’s energy and climate committee, Godfrey G. Gomwe, didn't take long to respond the plea. In his speech, he said that with “1.3 billion people in the world who live without access to electricity,” the questions of climate change and poverty reduction could not be set apart.

“A life lived without access to modern energy is a life lived in poverty,” Gomwe, said. “As much as some may wish it, coal is not going away.”

Separately, in Beijing on Monday, the president of China, Xi Jinping, told former President Bill Clinton that climate change policy and energy were among the areas where their two countries should cooperate more, Chinese state's news agency, Xinhua,reported.

Image by The Lisbon Council via Flickr