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Super Typhoon Haiyan Raises the Stakes for Warsaw Climate Talks
“Largest Storm in the World” increases the likelihood of a confrontation with the coal industry during COP 19
Warsaw, Poland - November 8 - Super Typhoon Haiyan—one of the most powerful storms ever recorded—should be an alarming wake up call for negotiators at the UN Climate Summit, said activists on Friday.
While no single weather event can be tied to global warming, climate change is loading the dice for extreme weather events like Haiyan. The storm's strength and rapid development have been aided by unusually warm ocean waters and warm, moist air (warm air holds more water vapor than cold). Global warming also causes sea level rise, increasing the risk of flooding from storm surges, especially in low-lying areas like much of the Philippines.
“Haiyan should be yet another wake-up call for rich countries to finally wake up and make serious commitments. Instead, they’re hitting the snooze button and cuddling up with the coal industry,” said Jamie Henn, Strategy Director for 350.org, an international climate campaign.
350.org will be mobilizing its international network to help with Haiyan relief efforts, as well as continuing to turn up pressure on negotiators to deliver results.
Activists are already labeling the Warsaw negotiations the “Coal COP” (Council of the Parties) and pushing the U.N. Secretariat and progressive countries to take a stronger stand against the industry.
In the weeks leading up the negotiations, the Polish government has doubled down on its embrace of the coal industry, making it clear they have no plans to seriously address consumption or emissions. The government is partnering with the World Coal Association to hold a major coal summit during the second week of the climate talks. Coal fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emission in the world, making coal the number one threat to the climate.
“Hosting a coal and climate summit side-by-side is like throwing a cigarette expo next to a meeting of cancer experts,” said Henn.
All of the emphasis on coal, however, has only served to cast more of a spotlight on the fragile state of the industry.
In the United States, coal demand has fallen by about 20% over the last five years, while environmental regulations in Europe will force the closure of many coal fired power plants over the next decade. The drop in demand has resulted in a similar drop in share price for many coal companies, sometimes by as much as 75%.
The situation for the industry will only get worse. According to a slew of recent reports by institutions like the World Bank, HSBC, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 60-80% of current fossil fuel reserves must stay underground in order to limit global warming to below 2°C.
Coal, and other high-carbon, unconventional fuels such as tar sands, are likely to be the hardest hit by the tightening carbon budget. The threat of these reserves turning into stranded assets has led many investors to start shedding their coal industry stocks, and fueled fears of a carbon bubble resulting from the overvaluation of fossil fuel companies. The prices of some coal mining companies have plummeted 75%, while many others have gone out of business.