The science and many reports are clear: we can have a future on this planet or we can keep using coal. But we cannot have both.
Yet, in 2022 the world burned more coal than ever before and coal contributes more to driving climate change than any other fossil fuel. There are real challenges to the sharp decline in coal that our future relies on, but the alternative is mass extinctions and the end of our own existence as we know it today.
The International Energy Agency and other organisations have mapped pathways to cutting coal and other fossil fuels from our economies. Coal Action Network has not tried to create our own blueprint of how we adapt to the rapid decarbonisation required, but we have list some general principles that CAN believes must be the cornerstones of a just and rapid decarbonisation programme.
Through technology, policy, and behaviour, we can do more with less.
Reducing resources and energy used by increasing efficiency at every step of the supply chain and at the point of use can save money, reduce our environmental footprint, and save resources for future generations. For example, research develops new types of steel with stronger structures requiring less steel use, and newer wind turbines are increasingly more efficient at producing electricity. There are limits to efficiency, and these gains can easily be wiped out if more is produced as a result of greater efficiency. Sometimes an individual’s ability to increase efficiencies through their own behaviour is limited by circumstances they don’t have control over, like trying to heat poorly insulated rental homes.
Decarbonising our economy will rely on the widespread deployment of a mixture of renewable energy technologies.
Growing reliance on renewables, must be matched with increasing research and development to improve their performance, impact, and variety. However, no renewable energy infrastructure is without impact, so replacing kilowatt for kilowatt of fossil fuel energy with renewable energy isn’t the solution. Technology alone is extremely unlikely to deliver us from human-driven climate change; it must be accompanied by fundamental change in how people live and what they value on this planet. For example, the global steel industry contributes 11% to greenhouse gas emissions, but decarbonising that industry would alone require the existing global supply of renewable energy to rise by around 3.5 to 5 times current levels (27,000TWh) in the next 30 years.
A socially just and sustainable economy must prioritise delivering what’s important for our well-being and security to everyone, while cutting back on waste and over-consumption.
Limits to efficiency, finite resources, and the impacts of renewable technology mean the excessive consumption of disposable goods particularly visible within richer nations increasingly threatens the ability for everyone in the world to receive what they need for their wellbeing and security. Stronger communities, better public transport, sharing economies, and ending the capitalist fantasy of infinite growth on a finite planet are essential to putting degrowth into action. Without degrowth, humans will fail to ensure a liveable future for the next generation in increasingly hostile climate conditions.
A just transition ensures that the workers and communities most impacted by the shift to a low carbon economy are at the centre of transition plans.
Workers and front-line communities can be a key source of innovation – but if they are not meaningfully involved, we risk leaving behind the very people whose work have supported our lives to this point. Workers, their unions and front-line communities know their industries the best and have the ability to shape their new place in a greener, kinder economy so we can create something that supports everyone’s wellbeing and security. For this to happen there needs to be clear governmental policy and company committent to treating workers well from the start.