Rio Tinto promises not to undermine renewables – and not to prop up coal

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Fresh from its own exit from coal, mining giant Rio Tinto promises to support renewables’ key role in climate action, and exhorts industry lobby to do the same, or else lose its support.

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Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has pledged to support renewable energy and climate action – and to “publicly argue against” government subsidisation of coal power – while using its significant clout to urge associated industry groups to do the same.

The former coal mining giant, which sold off the last of its coal assets less than a year ago, said in an Industry associations and climate change statement late last week that it recognised global warming as “a critical global challenge.”

And in what looks like a thinly veiled threat to fossil fuel lobby groups like the Mining Council of Australia – which has notably supported the federal Coalition’s push to underwrite new coal power – Rio calls on industry associations to likewise align themselves with the Paris climate goals, or lose its support.

“Where our membership is significant, we will work in partnership with those industry associations to ensure their advocacy is consistent with our own public position and the Paris Agreement,” the statement says.

This position, Rio says, includes public recognition of the “valuable contribution that renewables make in reducing emissions,” and a commitment not to undermine the role they renewables have in the energy mix.

It also promises to support governments’ emission reduction targets in line with Paris, and to “publicly” argue against subsidies for coal, and argue for the development of energy supply in a was that is both technology neutral, and consistent with Paris targets.

“In accordance with Rio Tinto’s Participation in Industry Associations disclosure, we will consider our support and membership of industry associations that do not partner with us in seeking to advance the policy agenda consistent with these principles, where we have engaged in a formal dialogue process with them.”

The statement says that it has recently engaged in such a dialogue with the Minerals Council, which it says is also committed to advocating for policies that advance climate goals.

But Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), which has been working with Rio for the past 18 months, is not quite as confident there has been a change of heart on coal and climate at the MCA.

“The MCA has steadfastly supported the Coalition’s plans to underwrite new power generation. In fact in its November 2018 submission, the MCA specifically called for government support for new baseload power — namely coal, gas or hydro,” it said in a statement late last week.

“MCA CEO Tania Constable recently described coal as ‘reliable, affordable and clean’. Just (last Thurdsay), she called for the use of Kyoto carryover credits to discount Australia’s Paris Agreement targets, a cynical move which is akin to cheating,” said ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien.

“It is imperative that all ASX companies understand the role their lobby groups have played in delaying and destroying effective climate policy.

“If we want any chance of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, we cannot tolerate these blockers having any further influence on policy and lawmaking. In the run up to this climate-critical federal election, ACCR will be watching the activities of lobby groups like a hawk.”

Brynne commends Rio for its own position on climate, however, and in particular for its “most significant demand” that Australian industry associations join it in arguing against public subsidies for coal-fired power.

“Today, Rio Tinto has given its industry associations a strong warning: align their advocacy with Paris, or Rio Tinto are prepared to exit. We expect that this will be looked upon very favourably by Rio Tinto’s major investors,” she said.

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