Global emissions of carbon dioxide (COtwo) of the energy and industrial sector set a new record in 2018. They reached 33.1 gigatons, which is, according to the International Energy Agency (AIE), a growth of 1.7% compared to 2017. This agency points directly to coal and its employment in Asia as responsible for this increase in COtwo, the main greenhouse gas. "The coal power plants were the largest contributor to the growth of emissions observed in 2018, with an increase of 2.9%," the IEA explains in its annual report. "Coal electricity generation accounted for 30% of global CO emissionstwo", Add. It even calculates the incidence of carbon in the increase in temperature. It is estimated that the global average temperature has increased to 1 degree with respect to pre-industrial levels and the IEA argues that "coal combustion is responsible" for more than 0.3 degrees of that increase.
The report highlights a worrying fact: "the majority of the generation" of energy with coal "is today in Asia, where the plants have only 12 years on average". The estimated life of this type of facility is between 40 and 50 years. That is, these young coal plants represent a "mortgage for the future" in the fight against climate change, says Ana Barreira, director of the International Institute of Law and Environment.
Carlos Fernández Álvarez, the analyst responsible for the coal sector in the AIE, argues that this mortgage is one of the keys to the report. "It's a serious problem", he says about the impact that these plants will have for years if they continue to work – and expelling millions of tons of COtwo– until the multimillion dollar investments are amortized. Fernandez believes that in the fight against climate change and the abandonment of coal – the most polluting fuel – there are two very marked realities, that of the developed countries that can undertake a more or less rapid replacement of the most polluting technologies and that of the developing countries that have it more complicated.
In the developed countries, like the EU members, these power stations are already at the end of their life cycle – at the age of 40. In addition, in those countries there is already enough installed power to cover the demand and close the coal plants. This is the case, for example, of Spain. "The investments are already amortized. And nine power plants are going to be closed, "recalls Barreira. This process of replacing coal with other cleaner technologies, such as renewables, has already begun in Europe and this has led to a reduction in CO emissions.two. In 2018, recalls the AIE, fell by 1.3%.
But in the other three major global issuers increased last year: in China (the largest issuer) by 2.5%, in the US by 3.1% and in India by 4.8%.
Only China and India already accumulate 35.5% of the COtwo world. And the two are inside the second big block Fernandez talks about. "These are countries that are growing and trying to guarantee the energy supply to their entire population," says this specialist. That is, they focus their efforts on installing more electric power and not on closing the existing one.
The agency aims for CO capture and storage technologiestwo as a possible solution. But, although in 2018 an increase in capture projects was detected for the first time in a decade, it is still anecdotal due to its high cost. In addition, as Barreira recalls, there is a controversial unresolved issue: where to store CO safelytwo captured from the chimneys of the coal plants.