Coal: Europe's security blanket, the Third World's necessity
How many lives do European coal plants have? Nobody knows. But by now, most of the world understands that Europe's reliance on coal is no longer deniable. In a time of global energy instability featuring an embargo on Russian energy, the E.U.'s wealthiest nations have embraced coal as a savior like the Peanuts character Linus grasping his blanket.
Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands are planning to utilize their coal plants to make up for a shortage in power from gas plants. Although many gas drilling projects have been resurrected around Europe, electricity from gas plants is set to decrease due to the Russian ban.
This return to coal prompts us to revisit promises made by these very same nations to end coal dependency. Is the reign of King Coal inevitable? Is European pressure on less developed countries to abandon coal carbon colonialism?
E.U. countries have been notorious for backtracking on climate pledges. Germany, for example, has pushed back emission-reduction targets several times, despite being touted as the leader in green energy.
"We will probably miss our targets also for 2022, even for 2023 it will be hard enough," said German economy minister Robert Habeck. As the use of coal increases, renewable energies remain almost stagnant.
Germany and others have come to the realization that their domestic energy sector needs large amounts of reliable power to meet baseload demands of cities and industries. Only fossil fuels, nuclear, and large hydro projects are capable of providing such reliability. The vagaries of wind and sunlight make it so.
E.U. nations had resorted to natural gas as a substitute for coal, calling it a transitionary fuel to carry them to the impossible nirvana of carbon net zero. However, the disruption in Russian gas supplies has them restarting idled coal plants to avoid blackouts. "The Netherlands on Monday joined Britain and Germany in warning that it will have to use more of the dirtiest fossil fuel this winter to stave off a looming energy shortage," reported the Daily Telegraph.
I support their decision to use coal but reject their badgering of developing countries for burning the fossil fuel.
If the European nations, with superior economies and living standards, have the right to utilize fossil fuel to meet their energy needs, there is no reason why the same should be disallowed for poorer nations, where the availability of such energy is even more critical.
Each year, the United Nations castigates "dirty, polluting countries" like India and China for their use of fossil fuels.
For the United Nations and the West, there is a lack of perspective on this matter. Europe and the U.S. enjoy their current economic success due to the unrestricted use of fossil fuels during the last two centuries, and they continue to use them as technological and geopolitical realities come home to roost.
Yet poorer countries are pressed to forgo the benefit of abundant and affordable energy from coal, oil, and gas. For someone living in a third-world country, this attitude of the West is hypocritical and lacks compassion, reminiscent of an era when colonizers sought control over the lives of subjects.
I believe the would-be colonialists in the comfortable offices of such cities as Brussels, Copenhagen, and New York have another realization coming: for the people of developing nations wanting to better their lives, the use of hydrocarbons is not negotiable.
Vijay Jayaraj is a research associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Va., and holds a master's degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, U.K. He resides in Bengaluru, India.