Hockey latest minister to tout coal industry ‘energy poverty’ spin

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Treasurer barely misses a beat when challenged to justify Australia’s fossil fuel industry and bottom-dwelling record for greenhouse gas emissions.

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Joe Hockey: "Utterly offensive"
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Australia’s Treasurer Joe Hockey barely missed a beat when challenged to justify the country’s massive fossil fuel export industry and bottom-dwelling record for domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are exporting coal so that nations can lift their people out of poverty,” the Liberal Treasurer told the journalist Stephen Sackur on the BBC‘s HARDTalk interview program.

Hockey’s argument should be recognised for what it is – a line straight out of the coal industry’s newest campaign playbook.

As I wrote earlier this week on The Guardian, the coal industry is attempting to hijack the issue of “energy poverty” by claiming the only way that the world’s poorest can prosper is by purchasing and then burning more of their product.

The United Nations Environment Programme wouldn’t agree. In a summary report of climate change impactsUNEP says: “In Africa and other developing regions of the world, climate change is a threat to economic growth (due to changes in natural systems and resources), long-term prosperity, as well as the survival of already vulnerable populations.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of climate change found climate change would “exacerbate multidimensional poverty” in most developing countries and create “new poverty pockets” in both rich and poor countries.
The World Bank says: “Climate change is a fundamental threat to development in our lifetime. If we do not confront climate change, we will not end poverty.”
America’s biggest coal company, Peabody Energy, has been leading the public relations push on “energy poverty” with its “Advanced Energy for Life” PR campaign with press advertising and online video campaigns.

The company even managed to secure a presentation to a G20 meeting in Brisbane in August. One academic who witnessed the Peabody Energy G20 presentation, Dr Matthew Dornan, of the Australian National University, described it is as “self serving”, “disingenuous” and “not backed by evidence”. Dornan told me:

“I was not impressed. The presentation conflated the issue of energy poverty – on which the workshop was focused – with promotion of the coal industry.”

Speaking of “promotion of the coal industry” Joe Hockey becomes the third high profile Australian politician to use the coal industry’s supposed concern for the world’s poor in an interview in recent days.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott opened a coal mine in Queensland earlier this week, where he told reporters that “coal is good for humanity” while enthusing that the opening was “a great day for the world”.

Environment minister Greg Hunt was a little more circumspect, telling ABC Radio National that the world had “two enormous challenges” – one was to bring down emissions, but the other was to “bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty” with “electricity and gas” being fundamental.

Hunt has previously claimed that if he had refused to approve coal export projects in Queensland this would be “condemning people to poverty”.

During the HARDTalk interview, Hockey rebuffed Sackur’s use of OECD statistics which show Australia is the worst emitter of greenhouse gases per person among the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Hockey said the statistics (showing Australians emit 24 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person ahead of Luxembourg’s 22.3t and the US at 20.6t), were a “falsehood” because they did “not properly reflect” Australia’s role as a major exporter of coal and gas.

The OECD statistics reflect emissions caused within country borders and for Australia, the bulk of this comes from the fossil fuels burned in power stations (52 per cent) and fossil fuels burned in vehicles (16 per cent).

The other major contributor is agriculture (16 per cent). Regardless of whether Australia exports lots of coal and gas, its own emissions footprint is high mainly because of a continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy.

So what about all the fossil fuels Australia exports? A 2013 study in the journalBiogeosciences found that the emissions from Australia’s exported coal and gas are roughly double the emissions from the fossil fuels Australia burns at home.

What Treasurer Hockey is actually demonstrating is that Australia is not only a greenhouse gas glutton domestically, but also a major contributor internationally. Thanks for clearing that up, Joe.

First published at DeSmog Blog. Reproduced with permission.

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9 Comments
  1. barrie harrop 5 years ago

    Sounds like an echo chamber .

  2. Pedro 5 years ago

    If Australia was serious about lifting people out of abject poverty then our international aid budget would not have been slashed. The remarkable thing is that for last several decades of exporting coal, I can not discern any energy poverty improvements. So clearly it is not working. Obviously the Australian government is confident there are enough ill informed people out there to believe this non sense.

  3. Andrew Want 5 years ago

    The argument that coal will lift the living standards of world’s poor and transport the poverty-afflicted into the modern world is as spurious as suggesting that copper line telephony is the future of communications in Africa, India and Central Asia. It is nonsense, as well as being transparently and cynically self-serving.

    Developing economies with strong solar resources, provided they can get access to cost-effective sources of capital such as the Modi Government in India is pursuing with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and US funding agencies, have a huge opportunity over developed economies in energy supply.

    By deploying solar energy for a large part of their energy system build-out, they limit exposure to foreign currency risk, commodity pricing risk – and health system costs – associated with foreign coal imports. They can design the optimal balance of centralised and distributed generation, solar power for immediate generation (PV) and for solar power with large-scale energy storage (CSP).

    As costs of PV and CSP continue to fall, solar’s competitive and economic advantages will strengthen.

    Why would developing economies, with this choice available to them (a choice that developed economies in the 1950s and 1960s did not have), chose to burden their balance of payments with coal imports and their budgets with the health system costs of coal particulates and pollution? Why would developing economies, more exposed to climate risks than developed economies, exacerbate those risks if they have viable alternatives in solar power?

    It defies all logic to think that coal will emerge with a dominant share of this growth market, even with the Abbott Government as its sales team.

  4. Rob G 5 years ago

    Since when has big coal be interested in poverty? Not ever. The only interest is in the financial gains of a select few. When the likes of Hockey and Abbott coming out and praising coal you can take it as a sign that the wider global population are turning away from it. They’re threatened and therefore they feel the need to come out and defend coal. They will lose this one and sooner than they fear.

  5. Macabre 5 years ago

    There are so many problems here it is hard to know where to start. Firstly how is it ok for politicians to be as misinformed as Mr Hockey? I could see Stephen Sackur (Hard Talk presenter) struggling to hold it together in the face of Hockey’s bald faced incompetence. Secondly, how is it ok for the Australian government to be totally beholden to a small number of vested interests (COAL and Murdoch chief among them) and to divert government resources on a grand scale to support their agenda. Thirdly how is it ok for big corporates to concoct lies about their motives, own governments, and screw up the world / society with impunity all in the name of short term profits?

  6. Les Johnston 5 years ago

    The review and comments all highlight the rhetoric of fossil interests and empty claims about erasing poverty through coal. If the COALition Government had concerns for poverty, they could have demonstrated those concerns by committing $0.5billion towards Ebola in Africa instead of a few million.

  7. Alan Baird 5 years ago

    Don’t you understand? The coal industry is established to provide jobs for Australians and to lift people out of of poverty. In that order. It is NOT established to make lots of filthy lucre. Perish the thought. See, all you’ve got to do is BELIEVE… and read the Tele if you’re thick… or the Oz if you fancy yourself brighter and need the camouflage of of a broadsheet to cover for the fact that you’re… thick. And listen to Alan Jones for comfort. Another great mouth for hire. And Gina Reinhardt who would like miners to work for $2 a day, purely assist in their character building and to distinguish their self-sacrifice from… Gina Reinhardt. Aren’t plutocrats wonderful? The Republicans call them job-creators as they very occasionally do that, if they can’t avoid it. Just a whole lot of nature’s gentlemen, salt of the earth the lot of ’em. It almost makes me break out in a fit of sobbing it’s all so goddamn beautiful. Join with me now as we all sing the national anthem while tears stream down our faces.

  8. Peter Smith 5 years ago

    Coal will eliminate poverty? Great!. … Hang on – coal has been around for a long time: how come we still have poverty??

  9. john 5 years ago

    The Peabody PPP has lots of graphs showing how coal has increased life expectancy and delivered every advance to the countries that use it.
    Just a little bit ingenious I am afraid however the simple minded have fallen for it.
    Perhaps the same graphs could be done for Tobacco drug use or any of the other ills of society.
    In the eyes of the purveyors of this devious material it must be only aimed at the IQ of about 50 which of course takes in the Fox News and shock jock mob to a tee.

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