Both Coalition and Labor remain wedded to new coal mines | RenewEconomy

Both Coalition and Labor remain wedded to new coal mines

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Approval for the huge Carmichael coal mine has created outrage in environment circles. But remember, this is bipartisan policy – both the Coalition and Labor want this “carbon bomb” to go ahead. Indeed, the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy “carte blanche” in Australia, with virtually no restrictions.

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The response to Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin was as swift as it was damming.

The decision has appalled environmentalists and academics, and attracted the attention of international media, particularly in the context of the Paris climate talks, just weeks ago.

Much of the reaction has been focused on local impacts on water, fauna, and the Great Barrier Reef, but the mine – labeled a “carbon bomb” by green NGOs – will also produce some 60 million tonnes of coal a year, should the $16 billion project ever get the finance to be built.

Professor Samantha Hepburn, from the faculty of business and law at Deakin University, said Hunt’s disregard for the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the coal was unethical and indefensible.

“If we are to stay under 2℃ of warming, coal is an obsolete resource,” Hepburn said.

“The strategic issue for Australia (and the globe) is how to manage the termination of existing coal plants and accelerate the shift to lower carbon intensive energy sources.”

The Greens lamented that the “Coalition government’s coal obsession is clearly continuing under Malcolm Turnbull.”

Senator Larissa Waters, their climate change spokesperson, said in a statement:“The world is desperately trying to avert catastrophic global warming, and yet the Turnbull government has gone ahead and signed off on what would become Australia’s largest coal mine.”

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is a bipartisan position between both major parties.

Opposition energy spokesman and former energy minister Gary Gray sends out a media statement nearly every week declaring his support for the Carmichael coal mine project.

“I support this project,” Gray said in another press release following Hunt’s approval on Thursday. “This project is of great importance to Queensland and to Australia. Australia’s coal exports are important to our customers and our mining communities.”

Gray even appears to support using government funds to support the building of the $3 billion rail link, although he suggests that the Coalition publish the funding rules for its $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund, labeled the Dirty Energy Finance Corporation, before it actually hands out money. And, of course, the Queensland labor government also seems fully supportive, and willing to allocate money, despite advice that it could be a white elephant.

Gray is not the only senior front bencher supporting the exploitation of coal.

Innovation and industry spokesman Kim Carr on Thursday was trumpeting the Toyota Mirai, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. He said it was an example of a zero-emissions vehicle that could “suggests to us what is possible with new alternative energy sources.”

And then he promptly pitched the use of brown coal. “We also have enormous reserves of brown coal in Victoria, which is a great source for hydrogen,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to the possibility of Victoria playing a major part in the future automotive industry through the development of hydrogen resources in that state.”

That’s as dispiriting as the comments earlier this week from Japanese industrial giant, Kawasaki Heavy Industry, in particular, when they told a hydrogen technologies conference in Sydney that they planned to use brown coal to produce hydrogen for import into Japan.

Those comments caused dismay at the congress. Apart from the fact that this idea relies on the tenuous hopes of carbon capture and storage technology, it underlines how big business is still wedded to the fuels of the past, and major political parties with them. And it reinforces the view of some that hydrogen is simply the “fossil fuel economy repackaged with a green sheen.”

And in Australia, the fossil fuel industry has carte blanche to do whatever it likes.

There is no carbon price.

There are no emissions limits on vehicles.

There is no national energy efficiency scheme.

There are no emissions requirements for coal-fired generators.

The Coalition’s Direct Action plan allows coal-fired generators to continue to pollute at their highest level for the past five years without penalty.

There is no plan – from either the Coalition, or Labor – for transitioning the workforce in Australia’s coal regions to new technologies and new industries. There is no strategy to grow green markets and green jobs.

Australia does not have a plan to cut coal consumption.

Despite repeated warnings from Australia’s own Climate Change Authority, the UN, the International Energy Agency, and numerous other institutions, that most fossil fuels must stay in the ground if the 2C targets are to be met, there is no carbon budget.

Even the Bank of England governor has warned about the dangers of ignoring this budget and the risk of stranded assets.

And, as Melbourne University research fellow Cathy Alexander notes in a new report, the national government has not set targets for states, industries or coal-fired power stations to reduce emissions.

It is not planning to remove fossil fuel subsidies (for example, tax credits for diesel fuel for mining companies).

And it remains the only developed country to actually reduce its target for renewable energy (from 41,000GWh to 33,000GWh, or from around 28 per cent to 23.5 per cent).

As Alexander notes in her analysis, China is about to inaugurate a national emissions trading scheme; it has cut coal imports by 45 per cent, and produces a higher percentage of renewable energy (21 per cent ) than Australia (15 per cent).

china renewablesAs this graph shows, China produces 29 times more renewable energy than Australia – a figure that some want to change by using Australia’s vast solar and wind resources to create hydrogen and export this clean fuel to north Asia economies such as Korea and Japan.

Over the next three years, China is expected to install enough solar generation capacity to power Australia.

Overnight, China confirmed that it has lifted its 2020 solar target to 150GW – about three times the size of Australia’s entire grid.

As Alexander concludes: “Australia is not displaying vision or leadership on climate policy, one of the major challenges of the 21st century.”

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22 Comments
  1. GreenGenie 4 years ago

    It is dismaying.

    Greg Hunt today said that Australians are doing “more per capita than any other country” in reducing emissions.

    Which sounds bonkers given he today announced the go ahead for the monster QLD coal mine.

    Math anyone?

    • johnnewton 4 years ago

      But they don’t count offshore emissions…

      • GreenGenie 4 years ago

        Just like they don’t count offshore tax free investments too I suppose 😉

  2. Reality Bites 4 years ago

    If the Adani mine is such a dud and economically unviable then why get hot under the collar over an approval that won’t matter? Why not use your energies towards India who want to build new coal mines producing another 500 million tonnes in the next 5 years!

    • david H 4 years ago

      Sorry Reality Bites but you are talking common sense and logic, neither of which apply in today’s environment!

      Why ALL the noise about the Adani mine and none about ALL the other big named mine developments in the Galilee Basin. Here is an unbiased assessment from Greenpeace:

      Greenpeace calculated these mines would together produce 330 million tonnes of coal per year for export markets at peak capacity.[2] Many of these mines would be bigger than any mines currently operating in Australia.
      Proposed Coal MineFull production (saleable coal mtpa)Estimated CO2 from combustion (mtpa)Alpha Coal mine3064.7Alpha North mine4085.6Alpha West mine2451.8Carmichael mine60128.4China First mine4085.6China Stone mine60128.4Degulla Project35 (est)74.9Kevin’s Corner mine2757.8South Galilee Coal Project1428.2Total330705.4

      • Coley 4 years ago

        The key word is “proposed” most mines on today’s drawing boards were “proposed” when coal turned a profit, UK coals gone down the pan, Peabody in the US is heading the same way.
        Coals dead in the West and the markets in the developing world are increasingly becoming self sufficient, nobody wants Australian coal.

        • david H 4 years ago

          So you agree with Reality Bites – new Australian coal mines are not an issue and we should stop wasting oxygen on them.

          • Coley 4 years ago

            Not at all, but there are more genuine areas of concern that can sneak up and bite the RE movement in the arse.
            If people on the ground in OZ feel its a needless distraction whom am I to disagree?
            As for trolls, such as ‘reality bites’ get away to to Christopher Bookers column in the UKs Sunday Telegraph to see real deluded trolls in action 😉

    • Miles Harding 4 years ago

      This is the cusion I’m using before resorting to drink when reality bites. 🙂

      Speaking of drink; The COALition was showing such promise … for a few days!!
      Then came the miseable relapse and yet another declaration of love for all things coal.

      Now, we get to watch the space to see who is mad enough to finance this sort of project.

    • Fryin Berry 4 years ago

      We’re at least a hundred years ahead over India in industrial development (and that means in associated GHG emissions). Maybe that means nothing to you, but in the world based on some kind of ethical behaviour, it should mean that we don’t spend time studying what India or China are doing.

      • Reality Bites 4 years ago

        No we are not 100 years ahead of India. They skipped faxes and went straight to email, they might skip a lot of coal and go straight to renewables, but looks doubtful. Australia is 2/5 of bugger all in GHG compared to China, India and the other BRIC nations, plus USA. The West created the carbon based economy and has a lot of responsibility, however we cannot just ignore the rest of the world.

    • Mick Perger 4 years ago

      Once the TPP ( & to a lesser extent ) the CFTA is signed these companies will be able to sue us for loss of profits …dosen`t matter if their not operational as long as a start on infrastructure is made . Hunt & this government have sold us out ….

  3. david H 4 years ago

    I find it hard to believe that China “has cut coal imports by 45%.”
    Can anyone confirm this and point me to the evidence.

  4. Mags 4 years ago

    I don’t think they are wedded to the ff industry, I think they are being coerced or even blackmailed by the ff industry. I don’t think they have a choice.

  5. Ian 4 years ago

    There must be a spelling mistake. I’m sure you mean a ‘C’ instead of an’H’.

  6. Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

    Fortunately the mine will not go ahead as Adani has abandonned the project in every way except an official statement of the fact. No bank will provide financing and coal prices are too low for it to pay for itself without subsidy. It’s possible that Adani has been dragging it’s feet on making an official announcement because they are hoping we are stupid enough to pay them to mine coal, but the Queensland Labor Government has stated they won’t provide a subsidy, so they’re not stupid enough, and federally… Yeah… I think I can see why Adani might think we’re stupid enough to pay them to mine coal.

    In a way it is a good thing that the mine has been approved as it will demonstrate quite clearly that it is structural change in the world’s energy markets that killed the coal mine and not environmental regulation.

  7. Robert Comerford 4 years ago

    Follow both the money trail of election funding and the number of fossil fuel workers that live in electorates far removed from the mines and all the hangers on that rely on the incomes from these well paid fly in fly out workers and you will see why both parties only give lip service to removing fossil fuel extraction from Australian business.

  8. Rob 4 years ago

    Lets face it. If you care at all about protecting the Australian environment. If you care about Australia doing its fair share in the global effort to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change. If you want Australia to be a part of the Great Energy Transition that is sweeping the globe. If you want to save our economy and government from being hijacked and exploited by fossil fuel interests, there is only one party to vote for. The Greens.

  9. Rockne O'Bannon 4 years ago

    Australian economics and politics are contentious and conflicted…. Driven by advocacy and an adversarial structure.

    I have a feeling that both sides of the global warming issue would be better served by trying to guide resource trade rather than fighting over whether to boost or halt it. Particularly, Australia has been conflicted like this for a really long time. One would think that deals and understandings could be reached whereby some controversial practices would get a pass in exchange for considerations in other areas.

    Just for instance, realizing that India is going to be burning coal anyway, why not have it be Australian coal? Could that give some leverage in determining how wastefully it is burned? Brown coal for hydrogen? Well, if Australian firms can handle sequestration better than Japan can, why not?

    Green politics could benefit by looking at the way the wind blows in these days of cheap fossil fuels. Australian green groups, fossil fuel exporters, and even utilities are on the ropes. Maybe they can all gain by cooperating a little better.

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