Workers unload coal at a storage site along a railway station in Hefei, Anhui province October 27, 2009.

On December 12, 2015, 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, the most ambitious climate change pact to date. The document lays out a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions, among other climate-related initiatives. Participating countries must now find ways to translate those ambitions into policy, and answer important questions about financing, transparency and accountability, national implementation, and accelerated emissions reduction goals, to name but a few. But one issue looms large: coal. 

Coal-fired electricity is responsible for producing 40 percent of the world’s power and about 70 percent of its steel. The coal industry employs millions worldwide and provides billions of people with electricity. Analysts estimate that the world has hundreds of years of coal reserves in the ground, at current consumption levels. Its abundance, low price, and global availability make it a difficult fuel source to give up. But despite coal’s advantages, it poses significant environmental and health risks. Ten percent of

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  • TIM BOERSMA is a Fellow with the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • STACY D. VANDEVEER is Professor of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire. As of September 1, he will be the Professor of Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts’ McCormack School of Policy and Global Studies.
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