Environmentalists have lampooned the outcomes of the recently-concluded Conference of Parties (COP) Climate Talks in Lima, Peru and described the failure of developed nations to cede ground on contentious issues beneficial to poor countries as a reminder of “missteps” of previous talks. At the United Nations annual confab tagged COP 20 in Lima, 196 nations agreed that each should present a plan in 2015 for individually reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Demands from poorer countries received little attention at the talks, including a proposal that nations like the United States be more explicit on how billions of dollars will be channeled to developing nations to cope with increasing temperatures, storms and rising seas, among other impacts. Foremost global environmental group, Friends of the Earth International and other rights groups fumed that the US and other developed nations have not done enough to avert environmental disasters in the less endowed countries of the world.

In his assessment, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Ojo said: “The climate talks turned out to be the relay of previous meetings where the same issues were tabled and yet no concrete concessions made by the polluting nations. It’s a shame that the meeting was driven by behind the scene deals and negotiations which were not transparent.” Ojo explained that the polluting countries that drove the process as was the case in the past talks still rejected issues of adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building which are key to mitigation of the impacts of their appetite for fossil fuels. “Evidently the talks were built on quick sand with no concrete proposal for Paris COP 21 next year. We have said it time and again that the historical responsibility for the payment of climate debt by developed countries in the provision of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building have been grossly sidestepped and on a wrong footing,” he stated.

He added that, “With the impacts of climate change already being felt in vulnerable communities around the world, the need for immediate action is now, even as the US and other wealthy nations still foot drag on finance to emissions and other critical issues that poor nations have raised.”

Poor countries urged the U.S. and nations in Europe to consider strengthening the targets they’ve already announced for cutting greenhouse gases before and after 2020. They argued that the Lima agreement should require wealthy countries to broaden the scope of their carbon-reduction plans by including measures detailing their financial commitments to helping poor countries and their efforts to assist nations in adapting to the effects of climate change. Instead, the final text “invites” countries to consider including adaptation measures in their plans.

The talks have shown that social movements can instigate processes of change that the climate talks failed to address. The outcome of the COP undermines historical responsibility putting pressure on developing countries without adequate support in financing and technology transfer. The urgent obligation of developed countries to provide climate finance is glaringly missing.

In a related development, there are concerns over rising global coal consumption. Global coal consumption rose three percent from 2012 to 2013, reaching over 3,800 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2013. While the pace of growth is down from 7.1 percent in 2010, the continued increase in coal consumption and related carbon emissions is a cause for substantial concern among climate scientists. If this trend continues, attempts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius will likely fail according to Christoph von Friedeburg, a research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

Not so bright for the future

Looking at recent developments by region, energy-hungry emerging economies, such as China and India, have been driving the expansion in coal use since the beginning of this century. In contrast, coal consumption in the United States and the European Union (EU) is declining. These countries have been replacing part of their coal consumption with natural gas and renewable energy, although China is taking steps in the same direction. Coal demand in China has almost tripled since 2000, rising from 683.5 mtoe to 1,933.1 mtoe in 2013-more than half of the global figure. To meet coal demand, the nation so far has been relying on its domestic production. But analysts doubt that this is sustainable for another decade or longer. As imported coal has become competitive, China’s imports have outweighed its exports since 2009. To diversify its energy sources, the Chinese government increased its capacity, investments, and exports in renewable energy technology, making the nation a new world leader in renewable energy. Furthermore, China is looking into increased imports and domestic extraction of natural gas, all while reducing the nation´s energy intensity.

In the United States, coal consumption has been in retreat since the start of the domestic shale gas boom. These trends could change in coming years if, as some analysts predict, many of the wells for hydraulic fracturing run dry and natural gas prices rise again, or if substantial exports of liquefied natural gas begin. Coal consumption in the EU has been on a marked downward trend since 1990.This trend is mostly attributable to the EU´s flat overall energy consumption since 1990 and to coal’s falling share in EU primary energy consumption. Policies and financial incentives that raised the share provided by renewables contribute to this shift.

The coal supply is getting “dirtier” as strong demand and lower prices create markets for coal with lower energy content. In 2012, for instance, the average heat content of coal produced in the United States was about 23.4 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), down from 29.17 MJ/kg in 2005. This means that more and more coal needs to be burned to generate the same amount of heat for a desired electricity output. If coal consumption continues to increase and no meaningful binding multilateral agreements on climate change are made, attempts to combat global climate change will likely fail. One source of hope is that the combination of decreasing energy intensity and declining costs of renewables will cause coal´s share to keep shrinking and stop the global rise in the use of the dirtiest energy source.