Returning to coal amid energy crunch would be climate 'tragedy': EU

Coal demand from giant markets such as China and India has surged as their economies restarted after major pandemic-induced slumps. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - The European Union's (EU) head of climate change policy says returning to using dirty energy from coal during the current energy crunch is "not a smart move" and markets should seize the opportunity to transition into renewables.

The collective industrial recovery this year following the coronavirus pandemic crisis has led to a surge in demand and prices for energy everywhere.

In Europe, soaring wholesale gas prices have encouraged more utilities to switch to coal to generate electricity just as the region tries to wean nations off the high-polluting fuel.

In Asia, coal demand from giant markets such as China and India has surged as their economies restarted after major pandemic-induced slumps.

"It will be a tragedy if in this crunch we will start investing again in coal, which is an energy that has no future and is extremely polluting," European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans told Reuters on Monday (Oct 18) during a visit in Indonesia.

"The smart thing to do is, during this energy crisis, reduce as soon as possible your dependency on fossil fuels," he added, noting that prices of renewable energy had remained consistently low while coal prices had soared.

Global coal prices have jumped to record highs and top thermal coal exporter Indonesia has increased its 2021 output target to meet the demand as mining operations were disrupted by heavy rain.

Coal was part of Mr Timmermans' discussion with Indonesian officials during his visit ahead of the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, next month.

Indonesia, the world's eight largest greenhouse gas emitter, is aiming to reach net-zero carbon emission by 2060 or earlier, which include plans to phase out the use of coal-fired plants. Indonesia is also a top coal exporter, with overseas coal sales an important source of revenue.

Coal currently makes up around 60 per cent of Indonesia's power generation and contributes around 35 per cent of its emissions.

Mr Timmermans said Indonesia's plan to increase the portion of renewables in its energy mix is "laudable and ambitious" and the EU wished to increase cooperation in that sector.

"We want to cooperate with Indonesia to make sure we can invest and have technology transfers; bring some ideas to the market for offshore wind or solar, or geothermal," Mr Timmermans said.

Indonesia will need to invest US$150 billion to US$200 billion (S$202 billion to S$269 billion) a year in low-carbon programmes over the next nine years to meet its goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 or sooner, a government study showed.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.