CQ's coal future according to a climate change advocate
The Morning Bulletin conducted a Q&A with leading advocate for climate change action The Australia Institute principal adviser Mark Ogge and how that could impact on Central Queensland's coal future.
Q. What are your thoughts on Australia stopping coal mining/ burning?
A. There should be no new coal mines or extensions. Existing mines would operate under existing approvals. New coal mines threaten existing coal mining communities. Stopping new coal mines would give long-term certainty to benefit existing coal communities, and enable planning for an orderly and supportive transition.
In terms of coal-fired power stations, they are expensive, unreliable and high-polluting. Just last year there were 118 breakdowns of coal-fired power stations and per unit of energy, the newest coal-fired power stations were the least reliable.
According to CSIRO, renewable energy is the cheapest form of new generation and that is why every new power plant in the last year is renewable.
Q. Are you against opening up the Galilee Basin?
A. The Australian Government has agreed to ramp down domestic and international emissions under the Paris Agreement. New coal fields in the Galilee Basin are not consistent with this commitment.
Q. Do you want to shut down CQ's mining industry? If so when would you like to see that happen?
A. The development of the Galilee Basin would threaten coal production in other coal regions. Galilee mines would be more automated and less job-intensive than existing mines. Based on coal industry analysis, The Australia Institute estimates employment reductions are 9100 in the Hunter Valley, 2000 in the Bowen Basin and 1400 in the Surat Basin, compared to a no-Galilee scenario. Galilee mines are likely to employ 7840 to 9800 people, resulting in overall negative impact on coal jobs.
Over time thermal coal will decline. Renewable energy is already cheaper than electricity from coal and gas, even including back-up with storage, and it is continuing to fall in price, in Australia and globally.
Australia should manage this transition through a moratorium on new mines, which would sustain high prices and provide certainty for existing mine workforces.
Q. What happens to the thousands of mining jobs and the associated industries that could see CQ could turn into a ghost town?
A. As the Morning Bulletin reported "all the vehicles will be capable of automation" and according to the Adani CEO "when we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port... in our eyes, this is the mine of the future." In terms of the latest guess regarding ongoing jobs from Adani, it seems like there it is more like one hundred than thousands. That is according to what the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Bridget McKenzie, told Sky News.
Q. What about the rest of the world? What are they doing? Didn't the US pull out of the Paris Agreement?
A. There are 196 countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement, including Australia. Each one has a National Determined Contribution to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The US remains in the Paris Agreement and has an NDC, and many of its states have ambitious policy, including California, which is the world's fifth biggest economy. While increased global action is needed, many other countries are taking far stronger action than Australia.
Q. If we're contributing 1 per cent of global emissions, what significant difference will we make if China, India and the US aren't playing their part?
A. China and India have far lower emissions per capita than Australia, and are themselves acting to decarbonise their growth. China's coal consumption peaked in 2013.
Of the 196 countries in the Paris Agreement, Australia is in the top 20 highest polluters. Australia's fossil fuel exports are even bigger, far outweighing Australia's domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Australia cannot expect others to take action if it will not. Conversely, Australia's action does matter internationally. It matters diplomatically and it matter economically. Australia could for example export renewable energy. It is also a big player in coal markets; new mines push down coal prices, while stopping new mines pushes them up, which is good both for existing coal and the climate.
Q. What are they doing at the moment or the next couple of decades?
A. Most countries are racing to install cheaper, cleaner, more reliable renewables. Globally the cost of electricity from solar sources has dropped by 75 per cent since 2009 while the price of wind turbines halved over the same period. According to CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Commission, renewables are already cheaper than new fossil fuel power generation.
Q. Are we potentially going to sacrifice our economy symbolically without making a serious dent in global emissions?
A. No. Modelling with Victoria University's Centre of Policy Studies finds that Australia could stop new mines, gradually reducing coal output over decades, with very little impact on Australia's economy.