Cutting out coal: what does a just transition look like?

(Eco Business, 10 Dec 2021) As governments in Asia pledge to phase out coal, how will the transition impact coal-dependent and vulnerable communities? And how will Asia benefit from a clean energy future?

Thermal coal is the number one cause of global temperature rise. It is responsible for nearly half of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and 72 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the energy sector. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in August 2021, issued a “code red” for the world, warning that without deep and immediate cuts to carbon pollution — including the phase-out of coal — the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement “will quickly fall out of reach.”  

If the transition and eventual departure from coal to renewable energy does not materialise, development — particularly in lower-income countries where most coal is burned — will be unsustainable economically, socially and environmentally.

A study of air pollution in Southeast Asia found that fossil fuels are responsible for 82 per cent of low-visibility days, and the burning of coal is a major source of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and heavy metals in the air, polluting the air, water and soils. An estimated 20,000 people die every year from respiratory illnesses linked to coal power in Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. That death toll will grow to 70,000 annually by 2030 if coal plants that are currently being built or at the planning stage go ahead in these territories, according to researchers at Greenpeace and Harvard University.

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Eco Business, 8 Dec 2021: Cutting out coal: what does a just transition look like?