The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights six main lines of evidence for climate change. First, we have tracked (see chart) the unprecedented recent increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. By burning coal, oil, and natural gas, we accelerate the process, releasing vast amounts of carbon (carbon that took millions of years to accumulate) into the atmosphere every year.
Most of the world's nations have agreed to make substantial reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions, but achieving these goals is still a considerable technological, economic, and political challenge. The International Energy Agency has projected that, even with the new agreements in place, global coal-fired power generation will increase over the next few decades. Finding a cleaner way of using that coal could be a significant step toward achieving carbon-emissions reductions while meeting the needs of a growing and increasingly industrialized world population. Now, researchers at MIT have come up with a plan that could contribute to that effort by making it possible to generate electricity from coal with much greater efficiency -- possibly reaching as much as twice the fuel-to-electricity efficiency of today's conventional coal plants. This would mean, all things being equal, a 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for a given amount of power produced.