Government and industry in denial: Australians are not for coal

IPCC WGII Co-chair Chris Field

The sun continues to set on the fossil fuel industry, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group III report this week saying that fossil fuels must be abandoned in favour of low-carbon energy use. The latest report, drawing on almost 10,000 research papers, produced by 1,250 international experts and agreed by 194 governments, makes it abundantly clear that the world can still limit global warming to the agreed “safe” limit of 2DegC, if renewable energy is at least tripled by 2050.

The report shows that it is only political will that is now lacking, especially considering the transition to a clean, renewable world will shave just 0.06 percent off expected annual global economic growth rates of 1.3 to 3 percent.

This means the economic growth expected by 2050 (in a world where climate change is not a factor) would be achieved only two to three years later.

“Ambitious mitigation means we might wait until 2051 or 2052 to get the total growth we’d get by 2050 in a world without climate change.” IPCC Working Group II co-chair Chris Field.

The IMF and World Bank are calling on finance ministers to remove fossil fuel subsidies and use policies such as carbon taxes to reallocate resources and combat climate change, but in Australia both the Government and the resources sector are apparently living in an alternate reality.

The Minerals Council of Australia has attempted to defy the sunset on Australian coal by launching a new campaign extolling the benefits of the dirty fuel, although this rapidly and embarrassingly imploded on social media. While this latest stunt was a disaster, the industry is not shy when it comes to spinning its way out of trouble. It continues to push the false argument that coal is a solution for poverty in the developing world, when its contribution to climate change creates the “injustice” that has caused Archbishop Desmond Tutu to call for an anti-apartheid style campaign against ­fossil fuel companies.

Carbon footprints by country

Carbon footprints by country

Domestically it routinely overstates its contribution to jobs, while the jobs it claims to create in local communities are filled by fly-in, fly-out workers. The coal industry is struggling, with 12,000 job losses over the past two years, and more are likely as many projects shift from construction to production, and as projects become stranded.

Still, it enjoys strong support from State and Federal governments, with Environment Minister Greg Hunt for one ignoring renewable developments to instead talk up carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions when faced with the IPCC WGIII’s conclusions. Hunt is talking up CCS despite the Coalition already diverting money away from it, and despite the fact that there are still no large scale CCS projects in operation.

The coal industry itself has also diverted money away from CCS technology development, choosing instead to spend the money on promoting coal use in Australia and overseas. One would think that if the coal industry was serious about playing a part in the inevitable low carbon economy (despite low-carbon coal being an oxymoron), then it would be sparing no expense to develop a life-saving CCS solution for itself.

That said, it’s too late anyway. Commentators from various backgrounds argue that the energy transition tipping point is here, and that renewables are unstoppable. Not only will renewable energy increasingly be eating the lunch of fossil fuel utilities, energy efficiency and green homes that are cheaper to run and build will further slow consumption, undermining profits, and increase the political clout of the cleaner solutions sector.

“The global energy market represents a US$6 trillion opportunity, with 6 billion users around the world. By 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly US$17 trillion. We already know that climate science is unambiguous and that every year the world defers action, the costs only grow.” US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Grandfather utilities – unwilling or unable to adapt – are threatened by this speed and spread of clean technology, and are scrambling to retain their market share and, in doing so, are acting without a moral compass.

The death spiral is underway.


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