Most coal must stay in ground to save climate

Jun 17, 2013
This file photo shows coal being stockpiled in Newcastle, Australia's New South Wales state, on April 25, 2012. Most fossil fuels must remain in the ground because burning them will unleash changes which will "challenge the existence of our society", a new government agency report warned on Monday.

Most fossil fuels must remain in the ground because burning them will unleash changes that will "challenge the existence of our society", a new Australian government agency report warned Monday.

The Commission study found that the burning of fossil fuels such as , a key Australian export, represented the most significant contributor to climate change.

"Burning all fossil fuel reserves would lead to unprecedented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today," said the report, The Critical Decade.

"It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned."

Most nations, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of the climate changing beyond two degrees Celsius are unacceptably high.

But to ensure the climate is stabilised, the world must "virtually decarbonise", the report said.

"In order to achieve that goal of stabilising the climate at two degrees or less, we simply have to leave about 80 percent of the world's fossil fuel reserves in the ground," report co-author Lesley Hughes told state broadcaster ABC.

"We cannot afford to burn them and still have a stable and safe climate."

Country Fire Authority (CFA) staff monitor a giant fire raging in the Bunyip State Park near Labertouche, west of Melbourne, on February 7, 2009. Duration and frequency of extreme hot days has increased across Australia and bushfire weather has increased in the populous southeast, according to a Climate Commission expert.

The report noted a recent resurgence in the discovery and exploitation of new reserves of in Australia and elsewhere, including new coal fields as well as coal-seam gas and .

Australia's alone represent about 51 billion tonnes of potential , or around one-twelfth of the 600 billion tonnes which, if emitted, are thought would push temperatures above the two degrees Celsius threshold, it said.

The independent Climate Commission, established by the government in 2011 to provide authoritative information on climate change, called for an immediate in .

"Growth in the use of coal will need to be turned around, so that it makes up a much smaller proportion of the global energy mix and eventually not used at all," it said.

But Australia's Resources Minister Gary Gray said while it was important to invest in clean energy technologies, coal was vital to the economy.

"There is no solution to global baseload energy generation that does not figure a big contribution by coal," he told the ABC.

The minister said developing countries such as India and China were reliant on Australian coal for energy.

"We do have to accept that in a growing region there are still countries that need these resources in order to draw hundreds of millions of people out of poverty," he said.

Coal is Australia's largest energy export earner, with a value of around Aus$48 billion (US$46 billion) in the 2011-12 fiscal year, followed by crude oil and liquefied natural gas.

Energy exports accounted for 34 percent of the value of Australia's total commodity exports in the same year.

Will Steffen, a fellow co-author of the report, said action was needed immediately because many of the risks scientists had warned of for years were now happening.

"The duration and frequency of extreme hot days has increased across Australia and bushfire weather has increased in the populous southeast," he said.

"Rainfall patterns have shifted, with food-growing regions in the southwest and southeast becoming drier."

Explore further: Increase in reported flooding a result of higher exposure

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User comments : 10

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mlkurnaz
4 / 5 (8) Jun 17, 2013
We must all be smart enough to do the right thing.
geokstr
2.1 / 5 (18) Jun 17, 2013
We must all be smart enough to do the right thing.

If only we were smart enough to know what the right thing was, or even whether we should do anything about it anyway.

To paraphrase a past Secretary of Defense: "there are things we know we know, things we know we don't know, but so many things we don't even know we don't know."

But human beings, arrogance and hubris being what they are, we often (incorrectly) assume we're the greatest things since sliced 13-grain whole wheat bread. Clarke's First Law is worth reviewing:

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
Howhot
3.9 / 5 (14) Jun 17, 2013
For every tonne of coal, you create 2.4 tonnes of CO2 when burned. That and a host of other toxins that result from from burning coal like increased mercury, arsenic, and heavy metals, sulfur compounds, etc. that accumulate in areas around coal fired plants. Coal mines have always been anti-union anti-worker, and increasingly have turned to mountain-top removal to extract small bands of coal with devastating consequences to vast expanses of 100s of square miles useless trailings, toxic streams and lifeless ghost towns.

It's an industry that has seen it's hay-day. Coal country people need to recognize it and develop alternative businesses and livings, like solar or wind, or alternative agra-business.

VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (12) Jun 18, 2013
Hillbillies like Geokstr will die in self imposed ignorance.
antigoracle
1.8 / 5 (15) Jun 20, 2013
Hillbillies like Geokstr will die in self imposed ignorance.

And the stupid ones like you will be living in the stone-age, right on time for the coming ice-age.
ValeriaT
1.5 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2013
Most coal must stay in ground to save climate
Fortunately the research of cold fusion or magnetic motors (1, 2, 3) research exhibits an apparent progress, despite the apparent boycott of mainstream physics.
Howhot
4.3 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2013
ValeriaT says
Fortunately the research of cold fusion or magnetic motors (1, 2, 3) research exhibits an apparent progress, despite the apparent boycott of mainstream physics.

I'm main stream physics, but on LENR I'm very open. I'm a big fan of Y. E. Kim's theory of BEC fusion as the theoretical foundation of LERN.

On the magnetic motors, that is just wishful thinking, unless someone creates a monopole.

On coal, it's not that I'm not sympathetic to the plight of the coal miners, I very much support the workers. What is wrong is as we burn it, we are killing the planet. It's not just global warming, it's also the ocean acidification issue (that is already impacting fish stocks!). Eat your clams now, in 50 years they could be extinct.

Howhot
4.2 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2013
Hillbillies like Geokstr will die in self imposed ignorance.

And the stupid ones like you will be living in the stone-age, right on time for the coming ice-age.

And the really moronic ones like you will not even know what an ice-age is and instead confuse it for rapture.
deepsand
3.6 / 5 (12) Jun 21, 2013
Hillbillies like Geokstr will die in self imposed ignorance.

And the stupid ones like you will be living in the stone-age, right on time for the coming ice-age.

You lack the humour to be entertaining, the knowledge to be informative, and have all the charm and attraction of a deceased rat which suffered from leprosy and incontinence.
Neinsense99
3.2 / 5 (9) Jun 21, 2013
Hillbillies like Geokstr will die in self imposed ignorance.

And the stupid ones like you will be living in the stone-age, right on time for the coming ice-age.

Yes, the ice age that explains the receding mountain glaciers and sea ice. That coming ice age. ;)