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2017-11-12 17:32
By Alex Doukas



Governments around the world have recognized that coal is in terminal decline and have committed to rapidly phase out coal-fired power.

Countries with phase-out commitments include France, the U.K., Canada, Denmark, and many others. In October, Italy committed to phasing out coal by 2025, and the newly-formed government in the Netherlands by 2030, including 3 plants only completed in 2015.

Investment trends reflect this shift: the International Energy Agency reports renewable electricity investment in 2016 reached $297 billion, nearly four times more than coal-fired power. While renewable electricity is already cheaper than coal in many parts of the world, the World Economic Forum projects by 2020, solar will be cheaper than coal worldwide (without even counting the massive health and climate costs of coal pollution).

I had the privilege of participating in the international conference on coal phase out and the energy transition in Chungnam province on October 24. The conference showed that Korea has taken its first steps toward phasing out coal, realizing the best way to deal with the rapid decline of coal is to plan for it, not ignore it.

Planning for a coal phase out can protect the dignity of coal workers, while seizing on clean energy’s economic opportunity. Korea is already a world leader in renewable energy technologies, and is home to three of the world’s top six battery companies, a market expected to grow rapidly alongside renewable energy sources.

However, Korea can show greater leadership.

In July and October, I co-authored two reports that show, among the G20 countries, relative to the size of its GDP, Korea was the largest provider of fossil fuel finance overseas, funneling billions of dollars to dirty energy projects through government-backed institutions like the Export-Import Bank of Korea, K-Sure, and the Korean Development Bank.

To make matters worse, these studies also found that Korea’s public finance for clean energy abroad appears to be negligible, a shocking finding given Korea’s business leadership in clean energy technology.

But the future is still to be written: the new government can choose to end public finance for overseas coal projects, and position Korea as a clean energy leader around the world, helping to address climate change and reduce air pollution while creating economic opportunity for Koreans.

Private banks and global ratings agencies already have a bleak view of coal: in October, global ratings agency Standard and Poor’s warned that the economic viability of assets such as coal-fired power stations will be "vastly impaired” in the future.

By ending its public finance for overseas coal projects, Korea can help other countries avoid the mistake of locking into a dirty energy system, when the cost of solar and wind is dropping rapidly and coal technology is past its sell-by date.

Just weeks ago, Canada and the UK launched a Global Coal Phase-out Alliance, which will gain momentum through the UN climate negotiations in November and the Paris summit on climate finance in December. Korea could add its leadership to this effort, securing its place as Asia’s climate leader.


"Alex Doukas is a program director for Oil change international, research and advocacy group for energy transition based in Washington D.C."


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