September 21, 2015 / 8:52 AM / 4 years ago

Coal industry seeks equal support for cleaner coal vs renewables

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The World Coal Association (WCA) plans to press governments to provide equal backing for technology to make coal-fired power plants less polluting as they do for renewable energy in upcoming U.N. climate talks in Paris, its chief executive said.

While coal is extremely polluting, it is also very cheap and a key fuel for several developing economies. As a result there is a greater push for new technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) by which countries can meet their energy needs without reneging on their commitments to cut emissions.

WCA’s Benjamin Sporton said it did not make sense that $2 trillion had been invested worldwide in renewables but only $2 billion on CCS, especially when coal demand is expected to continue growing in Asia for decades to come.

“Globally, and I’d say this about the Australian government as well, we need to treat all low-emission technologies equally,” he told Reuters by phone from Canberra.

“It should be about the ends rather than the means of how you get to a near zero-emissions economy, so we should be supporting carbon capture and storage as well.”

CCS is expensive and little tested, but essential for the future of fossil fuel-fired power plants. Recently, BHP Billiton said it planned to spend millions of dollars in a venture with Canada’s Saskatchewan Power [SSPOW.UL]to promote carbon capture technology.

Sporton is currently touring Asia, Australia and the United States to drum up support for high-efficiency low-emissions technologies ahead of the climate talks that begin on Nov 30.

He has not met with Australia’s new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, but said he hoped Turnbull’s interest in innovation would help drive support for carbon capture technology.

The WCA argues that using existing technologies to improve the average efficiency of coal-fired power plants could save 2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually - equivalent to India’s yearly carbon emissions.

China had made high-efficiency low-emissions coal technology a priority in its plans to transition to a low-carbon energy system and Sporton said he expects India to do the same when it releases its commitment to the climate talks.

“I think they’re keen to move down that pathway, but they need international support to do that.”

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in contrast to the World Bank, could be a source of funding for new cleaner coal plants given China is developing the technology and would be eager to export it, just as Japan is doing.

“I would expect that the AIIB is likely to be involved in support for coal financing in the future,” Sporton said.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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