Christiana Figueres told a meeting of the CEOs of coal companies on the sidelines of a UN climate conference that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of greenhouse gases and leave most of the world's remaining coal reserves in the ground.

"Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone's sake," she said at the International Coal and Climate Summit, organized here by the Polish government and the World Coal Association.

The World Coal Summit is taking place shortly after findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were published establishing that climate change is real and accelerating.

Figueres' decision to address the coal conference had invited strong criticism from green activists attending the COP 19, the UN summit on climate change.

Environmental organisations like Greenpeace has said that the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should choose clean energy over "dirty fossil fuels".

The ongoing UNFCCC talks will seek to strike a new, global deal by 2015 on curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) coal accounted for 44 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2011, the largest share, and remains the main source of electricity. "The IPCC's findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate. We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent," Figueres said.

"If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius," she added.

Figueres said further capital expenditure on coal could only go ahead if it is compatible with the 2 degree Celsius limit.
She urged the coal industry to assess the financial risks, to  anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance and to leverage technology to reduce emissions immediately across the entire chain of coal output.

"Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewable, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to do this to join them. By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security, and creates new jobs," Figueres said.


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