Reducing U.S. coal emissions could create jobs in forestry, transportation, study finds
(CN) – As coal is phased out to make room for cleaner energy sources, a new study concludes new technology could create thousands of new jobs in transportation and forestry nationwide.
One of the biggest challenges to combating global warming is the loss of jobs for people who work in the coal industry, which is a major culprit in the carbon emissions responsible for climate change.
International treaties like the Paris Agreement have made clear fossil fuels like coal need to be phased out in order for humanity to survive the worst effects of a warming planet.
But job security and growing energy demands are also major factors, with many fearing the effects of phasing out fossil-fuel industries.
And despite the pleas from scientists and governing bodies to move away from fossil fuels to meet climate targets, many nations continue to rely heavily on coal.
A new study published Thursday in the journal Joule looked at how new carbon-capture technology could not only retain thousands of jobs in the coal industry, but create thousands more.
“Rather than arguing that climate change mitigation is simply necessary, policymakers could promote climate actions by informing stakeholders about potential employment co-benefits,” the study says.
The researchers specifically looked at bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and storage, a technology yet to be implemented that some see as promising to mitigate climate change.
The technology involves collecting carbon from power plants and other large emissions sources, and injecting it into geological formations underground to sequester it. The biomass is then used as a source of fuel, potentially resulting in negative emissions.
This carbon capturing will be necessary, proponents argue, because regular “carbon sinks” like forests and soil won’t be enough.
Using a number of different models, the team of researchers analyzed data about how the technology development affects employment.
In addition to implementing the carbon-capture technology by 2030, half of the aging coal plants in the United States must be replaced with natural gas plants by 2050.
If the U.S. invested in the strategy proposed by the researchers, 40,000 jobs in the coal industry would be saved, and 22,000 more would be created in the forestry and transportation industries, their model found.
“The U.S. represents a very interesting case to test our approach given the current economic, political, and environmental situation,” said co-author Kasparas Spokas of Princeton University.
“This study shows how investing in climate change mitigation could actually ease the transition for coal workers, who would otherwise be confronted with abrupt job losses due to the retirement of the coal fleet by 2050.”
To come up with the numbers, the team looked at potential supply chains for energy as they related to the infrastructure cost of the carbon-capture technology.
Achieving truly negative emissions will require sustainably sourcing biomass such as agricultural waste, the team found.
Despite their optimism, the team noted some limitations to their conclusions and acknowledged more research is needed about the socioeconomic effects of implementing the technology.
For example, their models did not consider how replacing coal with other renewable energy sources would factor into the employment numbers.
The study has 14 authors from a number of institutions. It was funded in part by the postdoctoral program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.