Coal won't solve poverty, but it may save Turnbull's career | RenewEconomy

Coal won’t solve poverty, but it may save Turnbull’s career

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New report says coal is no solution to poverty, but Malcolm Turnbull is using the fossil fuel industry slogan to try to curb environmental groups and to shore up his increasingly shaky leadership.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the world’s carbon emissions passed a critical threshold, and Australia’s Coalition government re-boots plans to limit the activities of environmental activists, another new study has been released that demolishes claims by fossil fuel proponents that coal will end poverty.

The “coal is good for humanity” line – based on notions it will cure poverty, address global hunger and may even have prevented the Ebola outbreak – has been pushed by the coal industry in recent years in a desperate attempt to justify new projects and fight back against emissions regulation.


The campaign has been enthusiastically embraced by Australia’s Coalition government. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year said coal would play a key role in “alleviating hunger and promoting prosperity right around the world”.

On Tuesday, he doubled down on that claim, insisting that “coal is going to be an important part of our energy mix, there is no question about that, for many, many, many decades to come, on any view.”

But a new report from a dozen poverty and development organisations – including the UK-based Overseas Development Institute – says it is absurd to suggest that coal is the secret to solving global poverty and hunger issues.

“In fact, the opposite is true,” says the new study. It notes new coal will not help those already close to the grid who cannot use the energy because of huge connection costs, and it will be of no help to the majority of electricity poor households who live in rural areas far from the grid.

The answer, it says, lies in renewables, particularly solar and wind. “If scaled up appropriately, distributed renewable solutions will be the cheapest and quickest way of reaching over two-thirds of those without electricity. Clean and safe cooking is mostly achieved through access to cleaner fuels and stoves, not by more coal power.

“The evidence is clear: a lasting solution to poverty requires the world’s wealthiest economies to renounce coal, and we can and must end extreme poverty without the precipitous expansion of new coal power in developing ones.”

The report is not the first to dismiss the coal industry claims. The World Bank came to a similar conclusion last year.

But its findings are timely given new data by the World Meteorological Organisation that shows the earth’s atmosphere permanently passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold in 2015. WMO expects the levels to stay above 400ppm for generations to come.

It also comes as the Coalition government, with the Murdoch media acting as chief attack dog, flags renewed attempts to curb environmental groups by making it illegal for them to take court action against projects in which they do not have a direct interest.

Still from a Minerals Council campaign supporting coal mining

Environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg confirmed plans to change the rules, saying that the current legislation has led to “vexatious litigation” and cost “billions of dollars” in lost opportunities for development and jobs.

“Quite clearly, groups are undertaking these legal challenges to disrupt and delay projects, to make them unviable, to increase investor risk,” Frydenberg told the ABC.

Well, yes. In much the same way, it might have been pointed out, that the foreign companies that own much of Australia’s resource and coal projects have deployed millions of dollars in advertising campaigns and lobbying efforts to disrupt and delay climate and renewable energy legislation, to make renewable energy projects and other investment proposals unviable and to increase investor risk.

Turnbull, struggling to maintain his leadership in the face of polls that show him less popular than Tony Abbott was at the time he was deposed, also sided with Frydenberg, saying that there was too much delay in mining approvals.

“Nobody wants to take shortcuts on environmental matters, least of all me,” Turnbull said on a Brisbane radio station, the Guardian reported. “But there has been far too much delay.”

Turnbull’s support for coal and the new push to introduce legislation to curb environmental groups, follow his about-turn on renewable energy and the decision by the Coalition to use the recent blackout in South Australia as an excuse to try to force state governments to abandon their more ambitious renewable targets.

The new report, meanwhile, says that coal is given too much credit for the reduction of extreme poverty.

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 3.05.51 PMChina is often cited as a model for using coal to reduce poverty, but the report points out that the biggest drivers of poverty reduction were agricultural and macroeconomic policy changes before its coal-led expansion in the 1990s. And China is now trying to curb the runaway coal consumption as it tries to deal with huge levels of pollution in its cities.

“Coal’s environmental and climate impacts present a clear threat to people living in poverty. Air pollution from coal causes some 670,000 premature deaths a year in China and 100,000 in India,” the report says.

A one gigawatt plant in Indonesia could cause 26,000 premature deaths over its lifespan. Building just a third of the planned coal-fired power plants, mostly in developing Asia, would take the world past 2°C of warming, pushing hundreds of millions into extreme poverty before the middle of the century.

It also points out that South Africa, is the cheapest place in Africa to generate coal-fired power, yet electricity from its new 4.7 gigawatt Medupi advanced coal plant will cost at least double the original estimates and will also cost 17% more than the electricity generated from South Africa’s 2 gigawatt of new onshore wind power.

A new report from South Africa’s main scientific research organisation notes that wind and solar are nearly half the cost of new coal plants.

The report also quotes the World Bank President Jim Kim: “If the entire region implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished … that would spell disaster for our planet.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  1. trackdaze 4 years ago

    Coal is gone. Oil is where coal was in 2011.

  2. mike flanagan 4 years ago

    News Flash: Malleable Mal spends billions of Australian Taxpayers’ dollars on innovation, by inviting the Coal Buccaneers to paint their products green before it leaves the pit, while SA farmers wonder where their topsoils have disappeared.

  3. Ken Dyer 4 years ago

    No doubt Turnbull has been emboldened by the increasing price of coal, but as this article points out, price increases are just a blip on the continuing demise of coal.

    Roll on renewables!

  4. Rob G 4 years ago

    I suspect the “renewed” interest in coal has come about by the recent surge in the coal price. Short-sightedness has the LNP optimistic about coal’s future and the budget. Nowhere in their assessment do they consider anything other than the quick $$ coal is bringing. They are setting Australia up for a very big fall, as the surge will end as quick as it started. Hillary Clinton will put the final nails in the coal coffin shortly, If she wins both Senate and the House (thanks to Trump), we will see America transform at such a rate that our governments position will become quickly unworkable and we will become globally isolated by our ignorance.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      Wouldn’t that be nice!!!

    • Robin_Harrison 4 years ago

      That surely depends on who else owns Hillary besides the military/industrial complex.

      • RM Becker 4 years ago

        Don’t look now, but we agree on something. 😉

        • Robin_Harrison 4 years ago

          That would depend on whether you thought any other politician or would-be politician was any less of a completely owned puppet of wealth and influence.

          A system where the pinnacle, the leadership of the nation, is reached by being the least worst of the unprincipled lying thieves on offer has zero credibility for me. How about you?

          • RM Becker 4 years ago

            In 1984 I took Drama as an elective to fulfill some odd requirement by the great state of NC. My drama teacher told me then that politicians were “Push-button dolls from Disneyland”. I didn’t know what he meant, I only thought the visual was amusing. In the Country Bear Jamboree animatronics sense of the word – amusing. As I grew older, wiser (debatable), and continued pursuing actual knowledge with no prejudice to source – taking in all that I could/can get and trying to maintain a modicum of respect for each and every source (not always succeeding) – I figured out what that wise old man meant. And I agreed with it.

            Just as I agree with you. It is truly revolting.

          • Robin_Harrison 4 years ago

            What a coincidence. In ’84 I was a professional actor. It’s probably a good headspace for spotting fictions and frauds.
            I also think it’s a good headspace for spotting the essential OKness of people. In general we’re an awesome mob in spite of the lies and fictions surrounding us.

          • RM Becker 4 years ago

            I rarely quote, but I’m fond of this one.

            The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.


          • Robin_Harrison 4 years ago

            Good one and I suspect I too will hate very much to leave it. But first I have to deal with this mid-life crisis.

          • RM Becker 4 years ago

            I recommend a 993. Worked for me.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Even trump isn’t helping Clinton get that far clear that taking the congress is looking likely. Sanders would have been a very different prospect against trump starting way in front of Clinton vs Trum and all other go candidates.

  5. phred01 4 years ago

    coal is saving the liberal party from poverty by bankrolling

  6. john 4 years ago

    Just a note did you know that Wikileaks Hillary Clinton and George Christensen have something in common.
    Evidently there is a huge conspiracy that the sad George is only able to reveal to you that all these legal issues is because there is this huge kind of I do not know what but evidently it is going to ruin the world.

  7. john 4 years ago

    For explanation about the post below just go look up front page of

  8. Radbug 4 years ago

    It’s called the Export Led, Investment Led, model of development. It needs a prosperous First World working class to export into. The falling EROI of oil has seen the incomes of the First World working class slashed since 1980. Germany, with its wirtschaftwunder & Japan, with its economic miracle, rode it, China just managed to catch the bus, during the nineties, the peak consumption years of the Boomers, but for India, it’s too late. If you can’t sell, you can’t invest, and if you can’t sell, you can’t import, it’s as simple as that. If you can’t sell, you don’t have the foreign exchange to import coal. Since 2000, China has exported a lot more to the Emerging World to compensate for falling exports to the First World working class. Now the Emerging World is skewered on the prongs of its massive $US denominated debt and an ever falling local currency/$US exchange rate (making that massive debt ever more difficult to repay) and is in Depression. No help for India there either. All the Adani spruikers are dreaming. India’s missed the bus.

  9. Sid Abma 4 years ago

    A Carbon Capture Utilization System is designed to remove over 90% of the CO2 out of the exhaust of combusted coal and transform the CO2 into useful-saleable products. This affordable technology uses an agriculturally grown plant to produce an amine that absorbs CO2. This system does not require any steam or large amounts of electricity from the power plant to operate. It creates jobs on site and benefits a number of other industries.
    This CO2 generated product can also be transformed into a fuel that can be combusted alongside the coal. This fuel has 2x the Btu rating of coal and a lot less ash. To produce this heat is required, but the heat that is needed will be recovered from the heat in the exhaust.
    Using the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery to remove the heat energy also means that water is being created. If just 20% of the water in this exhaust is created, the coal fired power plant would be self sustaining. If more is created this facility could become a water supplier to the local community instead of being a consumer.
    There are also many products that the combusted ash could be transformed into.

    Waste is not a waste if it has a purpose, and combusted coal exhaust has a number of purposes.

    • jeffhre 4 years ago

      Wow that is awesome, so doubling the cost of a coal fired plant, which is now more expensive than wind or solar, by adding carbon capture, will be paid for by selling some water and CO2 from condensed flue gas. That’s fantastic.

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        And what about the ten percent that still leaks? That CCS project that claimed to be capturing 90% was found to be plagued with problems and actually capturing way less than anything like 90%.

    • Miles Harding 4 years ago

      Great! more fizzy soft drinks!! (I can feel my wasteline bulging already)

      I love this nutty suggestion that the CO2 condensed from flue gas is somehow useful.

      Nobody seems to understand the thermodynamics of the situation:
      The reason we get CO2 is because it’s the lowest energy product of the combustion process. In order to make use of it outside the soft drink industry, **a lot of energy** input is needed to strip the O from the C and then add, say H, to make it back into something like the coal that was there at the start.

      • jeffhre 4 years ago

        Oh really? Why wouldn’t anybody want this complicated Rube Goldberg scheme to provide less energy, years later, at 135% more expensive than renewable power?

        And “…more fizzy soft drinks!!” Don’t you remember when Pepsi recruited the head of Apple Computer by saying, forget about that changing the world crap, dude you can work here and charge little kids a 5000% mark-up to drink sugar and water?

        Oh darn sorry, ignore that – I got the whole thing bass ackwards!!!

    • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

      This project sounds like significant cost just to get it started. And think of the maintenance. I would rather have a solar panel.

  10. GlennM 4 years ago

    Just as China, cans 76 GW of new Coal stations….Good luck with selling the coal.

    Perhaps there will be lots of naughty boys and girls and the great toy distributor from the North Pole will save Aussie Coal ??

    • Miles Harding 4 years ago

      No use. I heard that Santa’s reindeer all drowned this year.

      • GlennM 4 years ago

        Love it !!

Comments are closed.

Get up to 3 quotes from pre-vetted solar (and battery) installers.