‘Clean coal can reduce emissions in SEAsia’

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Investing in low emissions coal plants in Southeast Asia is one of the most efficient strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region, a new report by the Asean Center for Energy (ACE) and the World Coal Association (WCA) claimed.

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The report, “Asean’s Energy Equation—the role of low emission coal in driving a sustainable energy future,” said that the Asean could accelerate achievement of emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement while still meeting growing electricity demand through the use of critical and supercritical coal generation plants.

Citing the 4th Asean Energy Outlook, which was published last year, ACE Executive Director Sanjayan noted, “Asean’s energy demand is expected to grow by 2.7 times in the next two decades, and coal continues to be a major contributor in our energy mix.”

Velautham continued, “With about 100 million people without electricity, the delivery of affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity is crucial to Asean’s predicted economic growth. That’s why we at ACE believe that viable modern coal technologies are essential in ensuring that coal is used in a sustainable way that will balance both the economic needs and climate commitments. Collaborative efforts support ASEAN to make informed decisions on energy policies.”

The report, which is essentially an extended cost-benefit analysis, concludes that shifting the energy mix from coal across the region away from subcritical coal plants to newer critical or supercritical technologies could reduce CO2 emissions between 2.0 billion and 3.3 billion metric tons over the next 40 years. The report said the reduction would be equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of the US, EU, and China, the world’s three biggest emitters.

“This action is expected to accelerate the achievement of global climate objectives without sacrificing economic and social development needs in the region,” the report said.

Chief Executive Benjamin Sporton of the WCA commented in a statement, “It is important to inject realism into the debate on how to reduce emissions across Asia. There is no question that cleaner coal is the lowest cost option among all available low-carbon technologies in Asean—a region that is rapidly urbanizing and industrializing. Coal is forecast to be an essential part of Asean’s economic growth. This reality means that it is only logical that the rapidly industrializing and urbanizing economies of Asia that are choosing to use coal do so with the lowest emissions technologies.”

‘No such thing as clean coal’

Environmental group Greenpeace, which has done extensive work to discourage the use of coal power in any form, took exception to the positioning of coal as an environmental and economic advantage for countries in Southeast Asia.

Pointing out that it was not surprising that an organization like the WCA would be support the expansion of coal, climate and energy campaigner Reuben Muni of Greenpeace Philippines commented, “As we know, the coal industry is declining in the US and Europe, and regions like Southeast Asia are seen as a sort of new frontier for business.”

“Clean coal doesn’t remove pollution, it just moves it to different streams,” Muni said. “There really is no such thing as ‘clean’ coal—the costs to public health from coal are well-documented. ‘Clean coal’ is just the coal industry’s attempt to greenwash their polluting technology.”

According to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University, the University of Colorado, and Greenpeace International and published just this past January, nearly 20,000 excess deaths attributable to coal emissions occur in Southeast Asia and China each year. If coal power expands according to present plans, the study concluded, those deaths would increase to more than 69,000 per year by 2030.

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