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Debate on coal heats up as climate protests reach climax

Protests at the climate camp in Kingsnorth, Kent, the site of a proposed new coal fired power plant, reached a climax this weekend, as reported by various news sources. Demonstrators, who promised to reach the site by air, land and sea, reached about 3,000 in number during the course of the week, but – met by some 1,500 police officers – failed to halt business at the site’s existing plant.

There was an excellent article in Saturday’s Guardian on how the outcome of Kingnorth will have implications for similar plants under development worldwide. In total, approx 100 similar plants are in the planning stage – more than half of these are in China, with the others split between the UK, Germany and the US – and governments are watching closely to see what decision is taken in the UK.

The main question is whether the UK government, which has argued for tough international regulations on climate change, will allow the power plant to go ahead without carbon capture and storage (CCS). UK energy minister Malcolm Wicks argues that new coal fired power plants such as the one being proposed in Kent are needed to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS technology, which remains unproven. This may be true, but if demonstrating CCS really is the priority, then why is it that there is no obligation for the owners of Kingsnorth to use CCS, should it be proven?

And as Patrick Wintour points out in the Guardian, why not follow the path chosen by Republican in California and set a cut-off date, say 2020, by which time coals stations will be shut if CCS is not in use? Quite simply, as Wicks admits, because with those sorts of strings attached, industry would invest elsewhere.

For a nice overview of how coal plants such as Kingsnorth could exist alongside effective climate policy, check out the recent report ‘After the Coal Rush’ from the UK’s Institute of Public Policy Research.

Olive Heffernan


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