If Origin serious about Paris, it should replace Eraring with renewables and storage

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Origin shareholders will vote on a resolution calling on Origin Energy to disclose plans to phase out coal power generation consistent with Paris Agreement.

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Origin Energy’s annual general meeting this week will be dominated by shareholder and community concerns over the climate, environmental and social impacts of the company’s fossil fuel operations and plans.

That’s not surprising given Origin is one of the biggest greenhouse gas polluters in the country, and has plans to prolong coal-fired power and expand gas production that are totally inconsistent with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

Origin’s plans to open up the Northern Territory’s massive Beetaloo Basin for gas fracking would unlock greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 50 new coal-fired power stations. And Traditional Owners, furious at Origin trying to proceed without their free, prior and informed consent, are set to dominate the meeting inside and out.

There is a high risk the majority of Origin’s investors are happy to back Origin’s dirty and destructive gas fracking plans. Will super funds use their members’ retirement savings to back Origin’s plans to open up the Beetaloo carbon bomb?

The Australiasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) is putting this to the test, lodging additional resolutions asking Origin to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of Aboriginal native title holders for the Beetaloo fracking project; to ensure future spending plans, such as the Beetaloo project, are consistent with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement; and to set Paris-aligned greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

 Along with its gas business, Origin owns and operates Australia’s biggest coal-fired power station, Eraring. Despite the global commitment to reduce emissions set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015, Eraring’s emissions have risen every year since then. In FY2018, Eraring’s emissions were 20% higher than in FY2015, and that number will rise again for FY2019 due to increased output at the power station.

Origin has a target to halve its operational emissions by 2032, when the company plans to close Eraring, which makes up around 75% of these emissions. So Origin’s emission reduction plans actually allow the company to continue increasing emissions, both at Eraring and other parts of the business, until 2032.

If running a massive coal power station as hard as possible, then closing it only when it’s totally clapped out doesn’t sound like a credible climate change action plan, that’s because it’s not. But in trying to dress up business-as-usual as climate change action, that’s exactly what Origin proposes.

Clearly, this is completely out of step with the action required to meet the Paris climate goals.

And what’s more, analysis by Carbon Tracker has found that, on an economic basis alone, it would make most sense to close Eraring and replace it with new renewable energy, storage and efficiency by 2021 to follow a well-below 2ºC global warming path.

As such, Origin’s plans are being challenged by a Market Forces-led shareholder resolution, which calls on the company to produce a plan to phase out coal power in line with the Paris climate goals.

With 515 investors, worth over US$35 trillion, having signed a statement calling on governments to reduce emissions and phase out coal power in line with the Paris goals, you’d think this resolution would have attracted plenty of support?

Time will tell, but again, the concern is that many investors – including Australian super funds – are happy to make public calls for climate action, but won’t make the same demands of companies they own, where they actually have the power to influence action.

Any super fund that commits this climate hypocrisy can expect massive backlash from members, who won’t stand for their retirement savings being used to block climate action.

Will van de Pol is a researcher with Market Forces.

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