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Climate-summit energy pledge, and ours

Eye on the Environment

By: Frances Lamberts


The burning of coal is the greatest contributor to climate change and ending it was a major issue, as reported in several New York Times articles, at the Glasgow climate summit.

A coalition of more than 40 countries, and more than 100 organizations and banks committed to ending all investment in new coal-power and scale up the “deployment of clean energy like wind and solar power” instead.

In a comprehensive report this summer, the International Energy Agency had urged a drastic scale back in fossil fuels.

It called for no building of new coal-fired power plants, and no development of new oil and gas fields after this year to improve the likelihood that global temperature rise can be kept to the safe, 1.5º Celsius limit — and worst weather-disruption consequences be avoided.

The planet has already warmed about 1.1º Celsius, with most of the rise happening over the last four or five decades.

The pledge to “end” the coal age quickly was eventually weakened at the Glasgow meeting, largely at behest of countries like India whose electricity sector depends on coal and where two thirds of rural households still face power outages every day.

It devolved into stated commitment to phase coal down instead of out, but the major polluting countries are to come back with stronger emissions-cutting pledges next year.

The United States, as the Times reported, was among countries that failed to sign the pledge.

While coal use peaked long ago and President Biden has called for the power sector to become fully carbon-free by 2035, one-fifth of the nation’s electricity still comes from coal.

Our region, served by the Tennessee Valley Authority, has quite a bit of catching up to do.

As of the summer of 2020, wind, solar and other renewables-derived power made up less than 4% of its electricity production, coal and fossil-gas-oil generation making up 41%. The coal fleet is to be retired by 2035.

Yet instead of scale-up of currently deployed clean-energy solar and wind power, the agency plans to replace the lost coal-generation capacity through use of another fossil fuel, natural gas.

The TVA founding act language holds the agency to “foster the social and economic welfare of the people of the Tennessee Valley region.”

Our own and future Tennesseans’ welfare is critically tied to a healthy climate.

While personally reducing energy consumption, let’s hope for TVA’s greater participation in national and international efforts toward transitioning away from the fossil fuels as quickly as can be.