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Coal Should be Phased Down “in line with national circumstances” • Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

In response to UN calls for the urgent elimination of coal, the G20 has responded with a commitment to keep coal as long as needed, and to pursue nuclear energy with the same urgency as renewables.

Implementing Clean, Sustainable, Just, Affordable & Inclusive Energy Transitions

38. We commit to accelerating clean, sustainable, just, affordable and inclusive energy transitions following various pathways, as a means of enabling strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth and achieve our climate objectives. We recognise the needs, vulnerabilities, priorities and different national circumstances of developing countries. We support strong international and national enabling environments to foster innovation, voluntary and mutually agreed technology transfer, and access to low-cost financing. To this end, we:

  1. Emphasise the importance of maintaining uninterrupted flows of energy from various sources, suppliers and routes, exploring paths of enhanced energy security and market stability, including through inclusive investments to meet the growing energy demand, in line with our sustainable development and climate goals, while promoting open, competitive, non-discriminatory and free international energy markets.
  2. Recognizing that developing countries need to be supported in their transitions to low carbon/emissions, we will work towards facilitating low-cost financing for them.
  3. Support the acceleration of production, utilization, as well as the development of transparent and resilient global markets for hydrogen produced from zero and low-emission technologies and its derivatives such as ammonia, by developing voluntary and mutually agreed harmonising standards as well as mutually recognised and inter-operable certification schemes. To realise this, we affirm the ‘G20 High Level Voluntary Principles on Hydrogen’, to build a sustainable and equitable global hydrogen ecosystem that benefits all nations. We take note of the Presidency’s initiative to establish the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre steered by the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
  4. Will work towards facilitating access to low-cost financing for developing countries, for existing as well as new and emerging clean and sustainable energy technologies and for supporting the energy transitions. We note the report on “Low-cost Financing for the Energy Transitions” prepared under the Indian Presidency and its estimation that the world needs an annual investment of over USD 4 trillion, with a high share of renewable energy in the primary energy mix.
  5. Will pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally through existing targets and policies, as well as demonstrate similar ambition with respect to other zero and low-emission technologies, including abatement and removal technologies, in line with national circumstances by 2030. We also note the ‘Voluntary Action Plan for Promoting Renewable Energy to Accelerate Universal Energy Access’.
  6. Pledge to advance cooperation initiatives to develop, demonstrate and deploy clean and sustainable energy technologies and solutions and other efforts for innovation.
  7. Take note of the ‘Voluntary Action Plan on Doubling the Rate of Energy Efficiency Improvement by 2030’.
  8. Recognize the importance of sustainable biofuels in our zero and low- emission development strategies, and note the setting up of a Global Biofuels Alliance.
  9. Support reliable, diversified, sustainable and responsible supply chains for energy transitions, including for critical minerals and materials beneficiated at source, semiconductors and technologies. We take note of the Presidency’s “Voluntary High- Level Principles for Collaboration on Critical Minerals for Energy Transitions”.
  10. xi. Recognize the role of grid interconnections, resilient energy infrastructure and regional/cross-border power systems integration, where applicable in enhancing energy security, fostering economic growth and facilitating universal energy access for all.
  11. x. For countries that opt to use civil nuclear energy, will collaborate on voluntary and
  12. mutually agreed terms, in research, innovation, development & deployment of civil nuclear technologies including advanced and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), in accordance with national legislations. These countries will promote responsible nuclear decommissioning, radioactive waste and spent fuel management and mobilizing investments, and share knowledge and best practices, through strengthening international cooperation to promote nuclear safety globally.
  13. Will increase our efforts to implement the commitment made in 2009 in Pittsburgh to phase-out and rationalise, over the medium term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and commit to achieve this objective, while providing targeted support for the poorest and the most vulnerable.
  14. Recognise the importance to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation, including renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards phasedown of unabated coal power, in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards just transitions.

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Good news for nuclear – modular reactors, explicitly mentioned in the text, are clearly one of the “other zero and low-emission technologies” to be pursued, with similar ambition to renewables.

Coal to be phased out “in line with national circumstances” – so as an when alternatives become available.

Not a good day for the renewables industry – in addition to promoting the role of small modular nuclear reactors, the statement emphasises the need for “resilient energy infrastructure”, in my opinion likely a veiled rebuke at Western pressure for developing nations to embrace intermittent, unreliable and unaffordable renewable energy technologies, which clearly are not ready or fit for purpose.

The document also makes mention of climate change and climate finance elsewhere, in sections I didn’t quote.

My overall impression is the document is a commitment to business as usual, with a little woke window dressing. The document is yet another strong indication that developing countries prize economic growth above the Western obsession with CO2 emissions, and are increasingly unafraid to say so.

Click here for more information on the economic obstacles to achieving Net Zero.

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