Former Climate Change Authority chairman, Bernie Fraser, has described the federal government’s argument that there is a “moral” case to develop huge new thermal coal mines in Australia as “obscene” and nonsensical.
The argument – a favourite of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, but most recently put by Coalition resources minister Josh Frydenberg – goes that development of what would be Australia’s largest new coal mine, the Adani-owned Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, is the right thing to do, to help provide a cheap energy source to developing nations like India.
“I think there’s a strong moral case here,” Frydenberg told ABC TV’s Insiders program last week. “I’ve just been at the G20 and at the APEC energy ministers’ meeting and they pointed out that over a billion people around the world don’t have access to electricity.”
It’s an argument that has been skewered by many, including RE; and now by Fraser, in comments to ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program on Tuesday morning.
“It’s the vulnerable people around the world that are going to suffer the most, and have the greatest difficulty adjusting to global warming, even to a two-degree (Celsius) global warming, and a lot of those people are in developing countries, including countries like India,” Fraser said.
“It’s a nonsense argument really and to sort of put a moral label to it is quite obscene really.”
As we reported here, Fraser quit as the founding chairman of the CCA in September, after years of frustration with Coalition climate policy, and in particular, a long period of bad relations with Greg Hunt.
Before his resignation, in July, Fraser urged federal policy-makers to stop paying lip service to climate science and embrace the “unstoppable” transition to a low-carbon economy – an effort he said should aim for a minimum 30 per cent cut in emissions from 2000 levels by 2025, and possibly double that target by 2030.
“The reality is that even with those targets for post-2020 emissions reductions the world is headed for, not two degrees, but for at least a three-degree increase in temperatures, and that has some pretty worrying and harmful consequences,” he told ABC RN on Tuesday.
“None of these changes, these types of policies, are without cost but the costs of not doing these kinds of things and having to contend with a three-degree increase in global warming, or even something bigger than that, those costs are even greater.”
And while the prospects for Australia’s climate policy ambition are generally believed to have been boosted under the new leadership of Malcolm Turnbull – the new PM has even confirmed he will attend the Paris climate talks in December – the Coalition’s attitude to coal, a number one climate villain, seems to have remained unchanged.
Indeed, in response to the news on Tuesday that 61 prominent Australians – including Fraser – had signed an open letter calling on world leaders to consider a global ban on new coal mines and coal mine expansions at the UN COP21 in December, Turnbull had this to say:
“I don’t agree with the idea of a moratorium on exporting coal. With great respect to the people who advocated it, it would make not the blindest bit of difference to global emissions.
“If Australia stopped exporting coal, the countries to which we export it would buy it from somewhere else. So there is absolutely quite a lot of coal around … so if Australia were to stop all of its coal exports it would not reduce global emissions one iota. In fact, arguably it would increase them because our coal, by and large, is cleaner than the coal in many other countries.
“With great respect to the motivations and the big hearts and the idealism of the people that advocate that, that is actually not a sensible policy from an economic point of view, a jobs point of view or frankly from a global warming or global emissions point of view.”
Among those idealistic “big hearts” Turnbull hopes not to offend is the President of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, whose Pacific Island nation is on the front line of climate change, and who originally penned the open letter calling on world leaders to commit to an end to coal.
According to Tong, “the construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any (climate) agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris.
He writes: “Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines. It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour.”
As the Guardian reports, Turnbull’s reaction to the letter came up at a media conference confirming the appointment of Dr Alan Finkel – the outgoing chancellor of Monash University, and an engineer who advocates nuclear energy as part of a future zero emissions energy plan for Australia – as Australia’s next chief scientist.
On the plus side, Turnbull also singled out the importance of solar energy in the future energy mix, and described the boost it is getting from battery storage technology as “a big game-changer”.
“Solar panels and batteries in an Australian household context at the moment are probably not in most cases competitive with the price of grid-delivered power,” he told the Canberra news conference.
“However, if you are in a remote community, or if you are in a community in a developing country where there is no electricity grid, and the alternative is generating power by burning diesel, then solar panels and some batteries, if the efficiency of the panels is improved and the price and efficiency of the batteries has come down could actually be and very often is much more cost effective.
“So it’s horses for courses. It is important to take the ideology out of this and just approach it in a very clear-eyed, cool-headed rational way.”