From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published January 12, 2006 12:00 AM

Coal Takes Center Stage at U.S.-Led Climate Change Conference

SYDNEY, Australia — The world's biggest polluters gathered Wednesday to discuss ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with debate over burning coal dominating proceedings.


Promoting technologies that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in coal -- with names like gasification, oxy fuel and geosequestration -- grabbed the spotlight at the inaugural two-day meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.


The Sydney meeting brings together senior ministers from the United States, Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and India along with executives from energy and resources firms. The countries account for nearly half of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions, the Australian government said.


On the streets of Sydney, coal has quickly become the whipping boy, with dozens of environmentalist protesters saving their harshest criticism for the industry which they say is a major contributor to global warming.


All this attention, coal executives say, is simply an understanding that coal is a crucial energy source for many countries at the meeting and will remain so for decades to come.


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"The reason for continued interest in coal is the simple recognition that with global energy demand growing at a rapid rate, that demand can't be met without coal," said Mark O'Neill, executive director of Australian Coal Association which estimates that coal generates a quarter of the world's energy.


Rather than banish it, coal advocates say it makes more sense to find ways to allow it to be burned more cleanly or to prevent the carbon dioxide produced from coal-fired power plants from reaching the atmosphere.


Considered the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, coal is undergoing a resurgence of sorts in part because it is a cheap alternative to oil and gas, especially in China and India.


Utilities in the United States are planning 130 new coal-fired plants, and another 20 or so plants that rely on coal gasification, a process that turns solid coal into gas. Australia, the largest coal producer, saw the value of coal exports go from 13 billion Australian dollars (US$9.75 billion; euro8.1 billion) to above 20 billion Australian dollars (US$15 billion; euro12.4 billion) in 2005, O'Neill said.


The viability of coal in the long term, industry supporters say, depends on bringing green technologies online. Among the most promising is a chemical process to turn coal into gas and a method for using pure oxygen, rather than air, to burn the coal to produce cleaner emissions.


Geosequestration is another method to essentially bury the emissions underground, thus trapping the carbon output. Dozens of small projects use it around the world and larger projects in Australia and the United States are in the pipeline.


Environmentalists say the meeting diverts attention from the U.S. and Australian governments' refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol that commits countries to targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. Washington and Canberra say such targets will harm their economies.


"Emissions from Australia and United States are spiraling out of control. We need rapid deployment of clean energy such as wind and solar today," said Erwin Jackson, climate change program manager with the Australian Conservation Foundation. "If the conference just throws research dollars to the coal industry to clean up their act in 15 to 20 years, we've missed an opportunity."


Source: Associated Press


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