Today’s edition of the highly-esteemed Nature Journal contains an analysis of global coal supplies by Post Carbon Institute Fellows David Fridley and Richard Heinberg. If you’re a subscriber to Nature, you can access the article here. If not, Nature’s podcast interview with Richard Heinberg provides an overview.
Yesterday, Australia’s ABC Radio National interviewed Richard about his work featured in the Nature article.
A synopsis of the Nature article:
The idea that coal is cheap and plentiful drives much thinking about future world energy consumption. It can explain the resistance of the United States and China to carbon-cutting policies — both countries have lots of coal, and they don’t plan to stop using it anytime soon. But is it a reasonable assumption? Richard Heinberg and David Fridley argue in this week’s Nature that coal prices are likely to start rising much sooner than everyone thinks — perhaps by the end of this decade.
This prediction is based on two observations. First, several recent studies suggest that high-quality accessible coal reserves will run out much sooner than predicted by official forecasts from the main coal-producing countries. Second, global demand is growing rapidly, mainly driven by China. China is both the world’s biggest producer of coal and its biggest consumer. “Its influence on future coal prices should not be underestimated,” say the authors.
The authors call for better data on world coal supplies. A US national coal survey was last completed in the 1970s and is long overdue. Countries should also immediately start planning for higher coal prices, and reconsider their investments in clean-coal technology. If coal becomes more expensive, then carbon capture and storage will no be longer be an economically viable route to reducing carbon emissions. The economic shocks from rising prices would be felt by every sector of society, say Heinberg and Fridley. New limits on energy consumption “will be imposed by energy prices and shortages if they are not achieved though planning and policy”.