John Menadue. Coal is good for humanity! The Tony Abbott story continues.

Oct 21, 2015

The messenger may have changed, but apparently not the message. Only this week our new Prime Minister said ‘Can I simply say, the government’s policies are unchanged’

An obvious example of this unchanged policy is that Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to the go-ahead of the $16 b. Carmichael Coal Project in central Queensland. This is despite the stand he used to make that burning fossil fuels was a major contributor to carbon pollution and climate change.

To reinforce that ‘policies are unchanged’ and picking up where Tony Abbott left off Malcolm Turnbull’s new Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, tells us that the mine would ‘help lift millions of people out of energy poverty’. He pointed out that over a billion people around the world don’t have access to electricity. He is telling us in another way what Tony Abbott kept telling us that ‘coal is good for humanity’.

Only three months ago Oxfam Australia reported that coal is ‘not good for humanity’. It said

Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralized energy grid so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution than coal. The Australian coal industry faced with the rapid decline in the value of its assets and an accelerating global transition to renewable energy has been falsely promoting coal as the main solution for increasing energy access and reducing poverty around the world. But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world’s poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of preventative deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change, pushing people around the world deeper into poverty. … the world’s poorest people are made even more vulnerable through the increasing risk of droughts, floods, hunger and disease due to climate change. Australia must rapidly phase out coal from its own energy supply and as a wealthy developed country, do far more to support developing countries with their own renewable energy plans. 

Recently the Lancet, the UK medical journal, said

‘Climate change fuelled by the burning of coal as well as other fossil fuels, presents a potentially catastrophic risk to human health through heat stress, floods, droughts, extreme weather events, air pollution and the spread of disease.’ 

In the face of an abundance of expert opinion, Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg keep approving new coal mines. They accept the spin of the coal mining industry that ‘coal is good for humanity’.

If they really want to help the poor and the planet, they would facilitate the wind-back of thermal coal production and re-double efforts to extend wind and solar power that doesn’t need a centralized distribution grid and can be deployed much more quickly and cheaply. Malcolm Turnbull talks about technology disruption. That would be a good way to help the planet through battery storage for solar power.

Far from helping humanity to wind back the fossil fuel industry, the government is doing the reverse. A test of Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to the environment is whether he will wind back the $6 b. annual subsidy that taxpayers pay to fossil fuel companies that have devastating environmental records and lobby incessantly and successfully to keep their hands in the taxpayers’ pocket.

This $6 b. annual fossil fuel subsidy includes two really big hand-outs. The first is the fuel tax credit scheme costing about $2 b. which favours the big miners. Secondly, the oil and gas industry also get a massive tax break through accelerated depreciation that is approaching $2 b. p.a.

The OECD only recently reported that ‘The time is right for countries to demonstrate that they are serious about combatting climate change and reforming harmful fossil fuel support is a good place to start.’ The OECD identified that its member countries had fossil fuel subsidies of $US 200 b. p.a.

The Abbott government cut our foreign aid funding from $5.6 b. in 2012-13 to $4 b. in 2015-16. These are the largest ever multiple-year and single-year cuts in ODA in our history. Julie Bishop accepted these cuts. The wealthy miners with their lobbyists speak up all the time. But there are few to speak for the poor who need ODA.That is why foreign ministers have such an easy time. They have no domestic constituency. The don’t need to listen to the poor in Myanmar or Bangladesh.

These cuts in ODA say a lot about the priorities of the Australian government. It cuts our aid to some of the poorest countries in the world but continues subsidies to those companies causing devastating climate change. By abolishing the carbon tax the polluters can continue to pollute without any penalty. It is time to reject the spin of the miners and stopped pretending that ‘coal is good for humanity’.

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