Growing dependence on cheap coal to power rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is blamed for harmful changes in the world's climate, experts said on Tuesday.
Between 2001 and 2006, coal use around the world grew by an unprecedented 30 percent. Asia, led by China, accounted for almost 90 percent of the growth, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said at the launch of a climate change report in Sydney.
The Asia Pacific region is at a critical moment with regard to coal use, and is grappling with the difficult question of how to balance burgeoning energy needs with the well-being of the planet and local communities, the WWF report said.
Coal, the most abundant conventional fossil fuel, is responsible for a quarter of the world's total carbon emissions.
According to the International Energy Association, economic growth in India and China will account for 70 percent of the increase in global coal consumption by 2030, primarily in the electricity and industrial sectors.
The WWF said coal related carbon emissions increased by 31 percent between 1990 and 2004. If left unchecked, global coal related emissions will increase by 63 percent by 2030, compared to required greenhouse gas reductions of about 50 percent by 2050 to keep climate change at manageable levels.
To avoid the dangerous environmental impact of climate change, governments must reduce the use of fossil fuels and ensure that new coal-fired power stations be equipped with low or zero emissions using carbon capture and storage technology, the report said.
The WWF also recommended that Asia-Pacific countries increase the use of renewable energy, develop zero-emission technologies and put a stop to large-scale deforestation.
Climate change is a major focus at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Sydney this week.
The WWF urged APEC countries, which account for about 60 percent of the world's economy, to set binding targets on emission reductions in a post-2012 climate treaty.
The first phase of the U.N. Koyoto Protocol climate change pact runs out in 2012 and there are growing diplomatic efforts to find a formula that brings rich and developing nations together to curb emissions growth of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Scientists say time is running out to stop climate changes caused by a build-up of these gases in the atmosphere.
Big polluters such as China, India, the United States and Australia are firmly opposed to binding emissions cuts, saying this will harm their economies.
Developing nations also want rich countries to agree to deep cuts first, blaming the industrialized world for much of the greenhouse gas pollution already in the air.
While no binding targets for greenhouse gas reductions are expected to be agreed at the APEC summit, analysts say officials might back a consensus on a replacement for Kyoto.