Leader of South Lakeland District Council, Cllr Giles Archibald talks all things climate change.

IT IS estimated that coal has contributed approximately 30 per cent of the global warming since the 1850s.

While Britain and Europe have drastically reduced the usage of coal, other countries have not. The global coal industry still releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The value of the environmental damage done annually by the coal industry’s emissions is huge, possibly greater than the annual GDP of the UK.

Solar power is the cheapest form of energy there has ever been. So why are countries not more aggressively switching away from the use of coal, when there are cheaper and less environmentally-damaging alternatives available?

The coal industry employs eight million people worldwide, generating global revenues of some $900 billion. It is a powerful lobby, particularly in those countries, like Australia, where mining has a large footprint. Governments have invested significant sums in building the infrastructure, such as the electricity grid, to fit in with areas of coal production.

In Asia, the average age of a coal-fired electricity plant is 12 years, with a typical life expectancy of 40 years. It is tough to ditch an investment after a relatively short period.

Electricity generation requires continuous power sources and solar panels do not provide this. Other sources of renewable energy, such as tidal or wind, could be used to step in, or energy could be stored in batteries. But this all takes time and investment to build.

Government focus on growth and the fact that Government inertia can develop, encouraged by vested interests, has meant many countries have been slow to change their sources of energy supply.

While switching away from coal has happened in this country, we still import a great many products from countries which have not done so. Our reduction also has little global impact if other nations, like Indonesia, are ramping up their usage.

There are many actions we need to take in this country. Firstly, people need to be helped to be smart consumers. Government should mandate that every product must show its carbon footprint on its label, so we know what we are buying. Secondly, we need to ensure our trade deals require our partners commit to carbon reduction and, thirdly, we need to use our development budget to assist the acceleration of the adoption of alternative energy technologies.