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Former UN Global Warming Chief: Coal Is ‘Essential’

With environmentalists calling for divestment from fossil fuels, the former United Nations climate chief has gone against the grain and defended using the “Green Climate Fund” to finance coal projects.

“There are massive challenges in terms of poverty eradication where coal is a logical choice from a cost effectiveness point of view, and you really have to be in a position to offer those countries an economically viable alternative before you begin to rule out coal,” Yvo de Boer, the former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, told the news site Responding to Climate Change (RCC).

“It’s strange for me as a climate person to say that, but it’s an honest answer,” he said.

Japan recently came under fire from environmentalists for using money from the UN’s Green Climate Fund to finance coal projects. The current UNFCCC head, Christiana Figueres, said there “is no argument for that,” adding that “unabated coal has no room in the future energy system.”

But de Boer disagreed, saying that coal would be an “essential part of the energy mix for many developing countries for decades to come.” Especially for Japan which has been hesitant to restart its nuclear fleet after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. While officials are open to restarting the country’s nuclear plants, a Japanese court Tuesday delayed reopening a pair of reactors.

“So you need to be a bit careful you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, so not investing in a technology that might actually be essential to the future of your country,” de Boer said after RCC pressed him on using green funding to finance coal projects.

“It’s a very difficult question that you’re asking,” de Boer added. “Do you say as a green climate fund, ‘I am not going to invest in coal,’ with probably as a consequence that a country will go to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank for financing.”

If you’re concerned about the environment, going to the the UN for finance would ensure a much higher standard than going to Asia’s development bank, or the one being proposed by Russia and others.

De Boer, however, is not for no restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from coal. He said that countries should impose a carbon tax on emissions to fight global warming, but also to not unfairly ban any single fuel source.

U.S. Democratic lawmakers have pushed carbon taxes as a way to close the budget deficit and deal with global warming, but such actions remain unpopular because they would make energy more expensive since coal and natural gas provide the vast majority of power in the country. Not to mention that people overwhelmingly drive cars power by gasoline — which is derived from crude oil.

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