It is time to take coal seriously. With vigorous development, coal can give the world the extra fuel it needs to face the next two decades confidently. But unless that development is pushed now, the energy outlook will be bleak.
This is the bottom line of a worldwide energy analysis -- the World Coal Study (WOCOL) -- conducted by 16 nations, with China participating as an observer.
The report is cautiously optimistic with a tone of urgency.
Its optimism is reflected in the participants' conclusion that it is quite feasible to triple world coal production and close the gap already opening between global energy supplies and national needs. But this is balanced by the realization that no combination of other energy sources -- including determined conservation -- realistically can be expected fully to meet demands.
The urgency lies in the report's warning that to exploit coal's potential, "public and private enterprises concerned must act cooperatively and promptly if this is to be achieved."
It adds: "Governments can help in particular by providing the confidence and stability required for investment decisions, by eliminating delays in licensing and planning permissions, by providing clear and stable environmental standards, and by facilitating the growth of free and competitive international trade."
That is a difficult goal for a field as controversial as energy policy. But Carroll L. Wilson, who heads the small WOCOL secretariat at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it is a reasonable goal for the WOCOL nations and one they will probably achieve because they have no other choice.