Coal industry sees relevance in tech embraced by Paris climate agreement

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The lignite (brown coal) power plant complex of German energy supplier and utility RWE is reflected in a large puddle in Neurath, northwest of Cologne, Germany

By Aaron Sheldrick

TOKYO (Reuters) - The coal industry is betting it can survive the decarbonization of electricity and industry and keep fossil fuels in the mix by leaning on carbon-capture technology, the head of the World Coal Association told Reuters.

Such methods are a key part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, said the organisation's chief, Michelle Manook, and will help keep coal relevant as governments and companies quicken efforts to cut emissions that are warming the planet and polluting the world's densely populated cities.

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, calls on the world to cut emissions as soon as possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say can prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The agreement calls on countries to use all available technologies, such as carbon-capture and storage (CCS), in which emissions are stored underground or used in industrial processes.

"Go back to Paris," Manook said in a passionate defence of coal. "Go back to the International Panel on Climate Change and they have been really clear and consistently saying that we are not going to get there without CCS."

But the fuel that has powered industrial revolutions around the world for more than two centuries is increasingly getting pushed out as banks and insurers, under pressure from shareholders, stop financing new mines and coal-fired plants.

Policies that exclude coal are not helpful, Manook said, adding that "CCS is a proven technology. We know it can be applied."

But CCS is expensive, as shown by the first commercial application of the technology on a power plant. Canada's SaskPower spent about $1.2 billion retrofitting CCS equipment on a relatively small unit at its Boundary Dam power station that started operations in 2014.

Manook said that the costs would come down with economies of scale and that governments needed to provide strong policy support to give companies the confidence to invest in such projects. SaskPower has said costs would be up to 30% lower on the next retrofit at Boundary Dam.

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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