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September 16, 2014

World Looks To OECD As High Level Commission Calls For Phasing Out Coal

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Today, the high powered Global Commission on the Climate and Economy released its flagship report on global coal use and the economy: The New Climate Economy.

The report pulls no punches when it comes to coal, including a call for a global coal phaseout involving an immediate end to investments in new unabated coal-fired power plants globally and the retirement of existing unabated coal-fired power plants in high income countries.

Perhaps most importantly, the report calls for governments to shift the “burden of proof” away from assuming that coal is the only solution to the world’s growing energy demands and instead takes into consideration the devastating social, environmental, and economic costs of coal.

In short, the Commission is demanding public policymakers move beyond coal.

To be clear, this is not simply the policy prescriptions of environmentalists. The Commission is chaired by the former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, and is filled with former heads of state and current and former executives from Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other major financial institutions.

Many multilateral development banks (MDBs) and a few governments have already taken steps to implement similar policies. President Obama called for an end to overseas financing of new coal-fired power plants in his Climate Action Plan, and since then the U.K., the Nordic countries, and the Netherlands have joined the pledge.  Meanwhile, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have also committed to end financing for new coal plants.

In addition to calling on high income countries to stop building new, unabated coal-fired power plants immediately and accelerate the retirement of their existing plants, the report also calls on middle income countries to limit new coal-fired power plants and begin retiring their existing fleet by 2025. Ultimately, the Commission is seeking a global phase-out of unabated fossil fuel power generation by 2050.

And it’s pretty clear why: in addition to driving dangerous climate disruption, these coal plants are having enormous effects on human health. In fact, recent reports estimate up to 100,000 people in India and 250,000 people in China die each year as a result of coal pollution.

With this cost to human life in mind, along with instability in the international coal markets and the looming threat of climate disaster, the Commission has come out with a series of recommendations to move away from coal while simultaneously supporting strong economic growth and promoting energy access for developing countries.

The first dominoes have fallen. Now it is time for the rest of the world’s richest countries to commit to end financing for coal and instead use their investments to support clean energy. All eyes are on the next big opportunity to put the Commission’s call to action into practice: countries must agree to narrowly limit their support of export credits to overseas coal projects through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Some of the world’s biggest heavy hitters are calling for action. It’s time for the OECD to deliver.

-- Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program, and Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

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