Environmentalist have been fighting to close down the coal industry for years, which has contributed to a number of health and environmental problems. It seems the scales may be finallu tipping in their favor as it seems coal is becoming a bad business model across the world. Even at coal centric conventions like the International Coal and Climate Summit, experts are telling coal companies to evolve or throw in the towel. Meanwhile, an increasing number of coal plants are closing across the globe, including some in the U.S.

This week at the Coal and Climate Summit, the executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christina Figueres, gave a speech to the industry. She immediately clarifies that she is not at the summit to endorse or eradicate coal but to tell the industry “coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.”

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Although Figueres acknowledges a place for coal in the future, it will only happen if money and energy is invested in updating coal burning factories to make their impacts less harmful to the world. This would include using technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, she warns that natural gas plants and renewable energies are becoming very cost competitive with coal and coal companies should diversify beyond coal.

Figueres challenged coal companies to look past next’s quarter’s bottom line and to the future for our grandchildren while also encouraging them to look at the financial risks of the coal business.

Figueres said, “I urge every coal company to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual; anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance; and leverage technology to reduce emissions across the entire coal value chain.”

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Ironically, across the Atlantic in the U.S., the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is taking this very advice by closing of eight coal plants this same week. The closures of the eight plants is a result of lower energy use in the area, environmental requirements and pressure, the aging plants, and the business competition from natural gas. The plants that were closed were all older than 50 years and could not be updated with pollution reducing scrubbers to meet future pollution regulation.

The TVA had to make a conscious business decision to determine which plants were worth the investment, especially as natural gas energy continues to become cheaper and electricity usage plateaus. Like Figueres suggested to the International Coal and Climate Summit, the TVA is adjusting its coal plants for the future, investing in ones that can be updated and cutting their losses on the plants that will cost too much and pollute too much.

The energy market is beginning to turn on the coal industry and business as usual is becoming a financial risk. Although the financial aspect may be the straw that breaks the coal industry’s back, it is the environmental campaigns against coal that have sped up the process, forcing the financial burden of environmental regulation.

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One of the most successful environmental campaigns against the coal industry is Beyond Coal, a grassroots campaign associated with the Sierra Club. The national campaign has a network of local chapters and organizations in every state. The goals of the campaign are to retire one-third of the nation’s coal plants by 2020, while replacing most of the retired plants with clean energy solutions and finally keeping coal in the ground where it belongs.

There are a number of ways you can take action to end the use of coal for good. Through the Sierra Club campaign, Beyond Coal, you can:

Image Source: TVA Web team / Flickr