Milton Catelin Chief Executive, WCA

Milton Catelin
Chief Executive, WCA

Last month, the World Coal Association (WCA) hosted the International Coal & Climate Summit (ICCS) in Warsaw at the Polish Ministry of Economy. Over 300 delegates who are influential in the energy, environment and technology sectors, attended the event providing the opportunity to have an open, inclusive dialogue about the role of coal in global development and how it can meet the challenges of climate change.

The decision to hold such an event at the same time as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw did create some controversy. Some environmental groups argued that it was in conflict with the spirit of the negotiations. However the Summit was intended to be an opportunity for the coal industry to contribute to the climate change dialogue and discuss how coal can be part of the solution. Coal provides over 40% of global electricity and 30% of primary energy. And growth is forecast to continue well into the future, even surpassing oil in the coming years. With this in mind, we saw it as an important step for the coal industry to be part of the discussions.

Engaging multi-level stakeholders

The ICCS was made possible because of the support received from the Polish Government. As the host country for COP19, the Polish Government saw the value in including the coal industry in the climate change debate, and understands that energy intensive industries have the most potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Janusz Piechociński, the Deputy Prime Minster of Poland and Minister of Economy, opened the Summit with a keynote speech, acknowledging Poland’s reliance on coal and their commitment to reducing emissions. Jerzy Buzek, former Prime Minister of Poland, former President of the European Parliament and now a Member of the European Parliament, also addressed the Summit about coal being an important fuel for Poland and the world.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) attend the Summit and gave a keynote address. Ms. Figueres’ decision to do so was criticised by some environmental groups but we appreciated her participation and her support for a multi-stakeholder dialogue about the challenges of climate change. Although we do not support all the suggestions outlined in Ms. Figueres’ speech, we do share her commitment to having an open and constructive dialogue about the challenges posed by climate change and the responsibility of the coal industry to address these. The solution to climate change is a collective one and Ms. Figueres’ involvement in these types of discussions should be seen as the start of a much needed, long-term engagement.

Balancing integrated priorities

Godfrey Gomwe, Chair of WCA’s Energy and Climate Committee and CEO Thermal Coal at Anglo American, gave the final speech in the keynote session of the Summit. Mr. Gomwe’s speech was both personal and emotive, as he talked of his experience studying under a paraffin light until he went to university. He highlighted the need to balance climate change challenges with those of energy poverty and pointed to the fact that there are still 1.3 billion people around the world with no access to electricity and 2.6 billion relying on traditional fuels for cooking. Mr. Gomwe emphasised that we cannot ignore that access to modern energy continues to be a challenge, especially in developing countries.

Mr. Gomwe spoke about the role that coal can continue to play in global development if high efficiency low emissions coal technology was deployed globally where economically feasible. He reiterated that raising the global average efficiency of coal plants from the current average of 33 per cent to up to 40 per cent would reduce global emissions from coal by more than two Gigatonnes – that’s the equivalent of running the Kyoto Protocol three times over. And to do this, the support of development banks is much needed in providing concessional finance so that the best available technologies can be used to reduce emissions.

High-level panel discussions

Technology use in reducing CO2 emissions was the topic for the high-level panel discussion that took place after the keynote session. Sasha Twining, a journalist and news presenter, moderated the session which highlighted that both high efficiency low emissions coal and carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) are both important for coal’s future.

The remainder of the day saw presentations on energy policy, financing of cleaner coal technologies and examples of technology innovation such as Saskpower’s Boundary Dam project and GE Power and Water’s Gasification project.

The potential of technology

The second day of the Summit was entirely focussed on key technologies that are vital to coal’s future, including presentations by Serge Perineau, President, World CTX, Dr. Lesley Sloss, Principal Environmental Consultant, IEA Clean Coal Centre, Arto Hotta, Director, Research & Development, Foster Wheeler, and Tomasz Dąbrowski, Director of the Energy Department, Ministry of Economy, Poland.

Continuing the dialogue

Despite the criticism aimed at the Summit and the varying views of participants, the outcome of the Summit demonstrates the commitment of a range of stakeholders to working together to find practical solutions to climate change. It also shows the importance of continuing this dialogue and how industry, governments, NGOs, and development banks collectively need to address the challenges of climate change and energy poverty.

Presentations from the International Coal & Climate Summit can be accessed here.