G8 gives clean coal a boost

A wind turbine stands behind a mound of coal outside a factory in Buettel, Germany.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: It's almost too easy to say that the main result of the G8 meeting in Japan this week has been a lot of hot air, but in this instance, it happens to be true.

Today, the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations said they want to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. There weren't any shorter term goals, which has climate campaigners calling the deal not much more than an empty slogan.

But there is one industry that's cheering: Coal.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: Major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions -- at least in the long term -- became part of the G8's formal statement today. But there's a caveat: World leaders say meeting that goal in an economically sustainable way depends on developing and deploying low carbon technologies.

The G8 statement specifically points to clean coal, where a power plant's greenhouse gas emissions are captured and stored underground, as the primary solution, and the coal industry couldn't be happier.

Joe Lucas is with the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Joe Lucas: It is an absolute endorsement of the fact that meeting the world's growing energy demand is going to require us to continue to rely upon coal to do that.

Lucas supports the G8's call for building 20 demonstration plants in the next few years despite the fact that the U.S. recently shelved its high-profile clean coal project because of cost. Still, he says, the world's abundant coal reserves are key to large scale clean energy.

But environmentalists say the problem is injecting carbon dioxide emissions into the ground on this scale is both expensive and risky.

Kate Smolski: I think that they are making rosy assumptions about what this technology can actually deliver.

Greenpeace's Kate Smolski says clean coal is still decades away from becoming a reality and she says when it comes to avoiding the worst effects of climate change, there aren't decades to spare. Nor is there cash. She says every dollar spent on clean coal means less money for technologies like energy efficiency that can be deployed today.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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