8 Feb 2015

Leave coal in the ground - study

9:59 am on 8 February 2015

A British study has found most of the world's coal reserves need to be left alone in order to keep global warming within the two-degree safe limit.

coal mine

Photo: 123rf

The University College London research is the first to specifically identify which fossil fuels need to stay underground to mitigate climate change.

One of its co-authors, Christophe McGlade said 80 percent of the Earth's remaining coal, half the gas and a third of the oil needed to stay buried to stop the temperature jumping.

He said coal use needed to be replaced with a rapid-roll out of nuclear and other renewable energy sources, to keep within the two degree threshold.

"The policy makers have to take this issue into account whenever they're discussing the implications of a two degree future.

"Because all counties have to sacrifice some of their reserves, you'd expect these countries that have to leave more in the ground will be compensated for some of the sacrifices they're going to have to make."

However, Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said it was unrealistic to restrict the world's access to fossil fuels overnight.

Mr Bridges said he agreed in part with the findings because climate change was clearly a pressing issue.

Simon Bridges

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ

But he said moving to renewable energy would be a transition, and New Zealand was already making strides.

"We actually do a lot more in renewables than we do in fossil fuels.

"I think there needs to be a balance because the world will continue to need fossil fuels but we're about 80-81 percent renewables in our electricity at the moment."

Mr Bridges said New Zealand would present a climate-change target at a United Nations convention in Paris later this year.

Chief executive officer of an organisation representing mining companies - Straterra - Chris Baker said a global agreement to compensate countries for sacrificing their fossil-fuel economies would be hard to achieve.

"The objective of that idea is similar to, say the Kyoto protocol, which was to develop a global agreement that would lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions, and so the problem with saying we will leave these fossil fuels in the ground is getting that agreement."

Mr Baker said people would be hesitant to sacrifice their lifestyles in order to reduce fossil-fuel use.

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