UN's Guterres urges shift to clean energy, end to coal financing

The secretary-general called on countries to pledge not to build new coal-fired power plants with pushback from the US.

    A coal-fired power plant is pictured near a construction site in Beijing, China, which has nearly 250 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power under development - more than the US's entire coal capacity [File: Jason Lee/Reuters]
    A coal-fired power plant is pictured near a construction site in Beijing, China, which has nearly 250 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power under development - more than the US's entire coal capacity [File: Jason Lee/Reuters]

    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged countries to stop financing coal and pledge not to build new coal-fired power plants to enable a shift to clean energy.

    "Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans," Guterres said on Thursday via videolink at a virtual clean energy transition summit of 40 countries. 

    The summit, hosted by the International Energy Agency (IEA), discussed ways to buoy economies, cut emissions and make energy systems more resilient to climate change.

    The secretary-general said the business case for renewables was better than for coal in nearly every market and that green jobs were crucial. Costs for renewables such as wind and solar have plummeted over the last decade.

    As countries look to restart and revive their economies after the lockdowns, some governments have included green initiatives into their recovery packages. 

    The European Union and South Korea have promised environmentally-friendly recovery programmes. 

    China, the world's second-largest economy and biggest coal producer, also said it was committed to a clean and efficient low-carbon development of the energy sector.

    "We are going to make great efforts to develop hydro, wind and solar," Zhang Jinhua, director of China's National Energy Administration, told the virtual meeting.

    Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans.

    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

    Although coal use has declined in regions including Europe and the United States, and many investors have pulled out of coal financing, it has been growing in other parts of the world as emerging economies argue that coal is needed for growth.

    US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in prepared remarks that he opposes any ban on fuels that produce emissions.

    "Renewables by themselves cannot ensure the reliable flow of electricity in any nation," he said. "Simply stated, every nation can benefit from a wider mix of fuels to keep its grid running."

    More coal plants 

    A study made public last month found China has nearly 250 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power under development, more than the US's entire coal capacity.

    Other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, are also investing in coal plants.

    Renewables by themselves cannot ensure the reliable flow of electricity in any nation.

    United States Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette

    Japan, which relies on coal for more than a third of its power generation, said on Thursday it will tighten state-backed financing criteria for overseas coal-fired power plants, following criticism over its support for the dirtiest fossil fuel.

    Governments have agreed to curb global warming to safer levels to avoid catastrophic climate change and to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

    An international climate conference (COP26), at which countries need to submit more ambitious emissions-cut plans, has been postponed until November next year.

    The United Kingdom, which is hosting the conference, said it represents a "landmark moment" following on from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a global climate pact to curb emissions.

    "We must reach a negotiated outcome there which finalises the Paris Agreement and countries come forward with more ambition. Current and future generations deserve nothing less," said Alok Sharma, the UK's business and energy minister, who will serve as the president of the climate conference.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies