WITH little more than 50 days to go until Copenhagen, two sets of international climate talks take centre stage in London this week.
First, ministers from 20 countries are coming together to tackle one of the most pressing challenges to a global deal on climate change – coal.
For people who are concerned about the climate as well as keeping the lights on, coal is the fuel we must clean up.
It is one of the most carbon intensive fuels we have, not just when compared to renewable but to other fossil fuels as well.
A unit of electricity from a coal-fired power station creates about twice as much CO2 as a unit of electricity from gas.
But we cannot live without it because it is the mainstay of the electricity grid in so many countries around the world.
Coal is cheap and abundant. In the UK, coal provides a third of our electricity. In other countries the number is much higher.
Last week, I was in Poland where 95% of the country’s electricity is generated from coal.
It is very hard to see a secure energy future for the world that does not involve coal.
So we must work together as one and be innovative.
This week’s conference, jointly hosted by the UK and Norway, focuses on the technology that can solve the dilemma: Carbon capture and storage.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to remove 90% of the CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations.
Carbon dioxide is trapped in the flues of power stations and piped into secure long-term storage.
CCS has the potential to make coal a low-carbon fuel. Without CCS, the cost of tackling climate change will rise by 70%.
The challenge is that CCS is a new and complex technology.
It will take concerted action to take it from the small-scale demonstrations we currently have to the default design for power stations.
The scale of change needed will rival mankind’s great industrial and engineering advance.
That change will have to come quickly if we are to make the transition in time to meet the climate challenge the world faces.
The UK has already set out bold plans for deployment of CCS.
We have proposed the toughest requirements in the world on new coal-fired power stations and have plans to support up to four full commercial scale CCS plants to demonstrate the technology.
If we are to make the change we need, countries working on CCS need to collaborate to ensure that CCS becomes an option for the biggest users of fossil fuels globally.
So this week in London, we will be discussing global plans for CCS.
We will discuss with representatives from Europe and China joint plans to develop China’s first full commercial scale CCS power plant.
American secretary of energy, Steven Chu, will talk about the plant they already have up and running in America.
Working with our partners who also have shores on the North Sea, we will discuss the role it can play in storage of extracted CO2.
The wider substance of the Copenhagen deal itself will also be discussed in London this week.
The 17 members of the major economies forum gather to develop further a shared understanding and build consensus on some general principles before Copenhagen.
It is a sad irony that those countries like Papua New Guinea and other Pacific states who have contributed the least to causing climate change, feel its most severe effects, so I’m pleased that vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and others will be participating in this week’s talks too.
There are no second chances with climate change, we cannot waste a day between now and Copenhagen.
We must use every single opportunity – including this week’s talks in London and the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad – to push for the most ambitious, effective and fair deal possible.
* Ed Miliband is Britain’s secretary for energy and climate change