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Sierra Daily

Dec 19, 2012

Coaled Comfort

Coal trainBetween 2011 and 2017, U.S. coal consumption will fall by 14 percent. The Sierra Club is making strides in its effort to effectively retire a third of the nation's aging coal fleet by 2020. Despite an absence of federal climate legislation, the U.S. will likely meet its 2009 pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020.

So what’s not to like? Well, for starters, the U.S. is an anomaly. According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, surging coal demand in China and India particularly will bring coal within reach of surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source by 2017. “The IEA expects that coal demand will increase in every region of the world except in the United States, where coal is being pushed out by natural gas,” says IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tons of coal per year by 2017 compared to today –- equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined. Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

Van der Hoeven notes that once-ballyhooed carbon capture and sequestration technologies cannot be expected to come to the rescue. “CCS technologies are not taking off as once expected, which means CO2 emissions will keep growing substantially. Without progress in CCS, and if other countries cannot replicate the US experience and reduce coal demand, coal faces the risk of a potential climate policy backlash.” 

Image by iStock/BeyondImages

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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