Coal Industry swaps CCS for spin as Greenpeace report pinpoints 91 dangerous projects

Intro

Greenpeace released a special report today, identifying 91 coal projects in New South Wales and Queensland that cannot go ahead if we are to remain below the 2degC of warming limit agreed by world governments. The special report follows other landmark research from Australia’s Climate Commission and the International Energy Agency (IEA), all of which reinforce the urgent need for Australia to take the concept of unburnable carbon seriously and rein in its planned coal mining expansion. Australia already digs up roughly 400 million tonnes of coal per year, these new projects would add 604 million tonnes on top of this, pushing the carbon dioxide contribution of Australian coal globally to over two billion tonnes per annum out of a global budget of 500 billion tonnes total by 2050. Because of this, investments in projects such as GVK’s Alpha Coal are increasingly being described as “monuments to short-sightedness” and “stranded assets” of the future. The coal industry is even actively undermining its own future viability, with the ABC discovering that a billion dollar coal industry fund supposed to drive development of ‘clean coal’ technology has been quietly changed to allow the money to be spent promoting coal use here and overseas.

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RT @georgefwoods: #coal or the country? 91 new projects planned for #nsw and #qld before the end of the critical decade #climate http://t.co/LzwSqDB2Vs

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Key Points

  • Greenpeace’s critical list identifies 91 new coal projects that, if allowed to proceed, will add an additional 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year after 2018. This brings the total contribution of Australian coal to around 2 billion tonnes of the 500 billion tonne total global carbon budget to 2050, driving the dangerous levels of global warming scientists and analysts warn will have dire impacts on the global environment and economy.
  • To meet the 2degC warming limit agreed by world governments, global demand for coal must peak in 2016 and decline annually from then on, however, the plans for 91 new and expanded coal mines will do the opposite, ramping up production up to 2018 and beyond.
  • The Coal Industry has quietly changed the constitution of a “clean coal” fund, to allow the fund to be used to “promot[e] the use of coal both within Australia and overseas and promoting the economic and social benefits of the coal industry.” It has done this despite report after report from eminent scientific, economic, governmental, investment and environmental organisations sound warnings of the grave risks of blowing the carbon budget, the coal industry is sticking its head in the sand and diverting R&D funding into PR in order to spin its way out of trouble

Background

Following last week’s landmark reports from Australia’s Climate Commission and the International Energy Agency (IEA) reinforcing the urgent need for Australia to wake up to the implications of unburnable carbon, Greenpeace today released a special report identifying 91 coal projects in New South Wales and Queensland alone that cannot go ahead if Australia is to remain within its carbon budget.

Based on the latest list of Resource and Energy Major Projects from the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics, Greenpeace’s “critical list” highlights the projects currently on the table for completion by the end of the “critical decade”. NSW and Queensland already have over 100 operational black coal mines. 91 new coal projects are being proposed on top of these, 54 of which are new mines.

If these projects go ahead, they will generate 604 million tonnes of coal per year on top of the roughly 400 million tonnes already being produced. That translates to an additional 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere annually after 2018, and when added to the 720 million tonnes of carbon dioxide Australian coal already adds to the atmosphere globally, it would take Australian coal’s emissions contribution to over 2 billion tonnes per year.

This increase puts the world on track to blow straight through the 2degC upper limit of global average warming agreed by world governments at Copenhagen and into catastrophic warming territory. However, should world Governments take increasingly strong action on climate change the coal industry’s days will inevitably be numbered. Divestment movements are growing, and the financial viability of fossil projects are being more loudly questioned, with the $10 billion Alpha Coal Project in the Galilee Basin for one being described as a “monument to short-sightedness” which no one should invest in.

The coal industry’s response to these increasing threats to its bottom line has been to reassert itself as “vital” for its contribution to jobs and the national economy. The Australian Coal Association pushed this notion last week with its own report, written by well-known Australian climate denier Alan Oxley, where it attempted to dismiss the notion of unburnable carbon. Clive Hamilton listed Oxley as one of his climate “dirty dozen” in 2006 saying: “The Chairman of Monash University’s APEC Study Centre and former trade ambassador, Oxley has been involved in almost every major initiative and lobbying effort of the climate skeptics brigade since climate change first came on to the public agenda in the early 1990s.”

This report Oxley produced for the ACA was dismissed by the Climate Institute as an example of “classic investment bubble thinking that smacks of desperation”, but one thing its release did was reopen the debate around carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a “low-carbon” future for coal. Nikki Williams attempted to evangelise CCS, however, not only did she admit the technology is unlikely to be significantly deployed before 2030, a new report from the ABC has found that a billion dollar coal industry fund supposed to drive development of ‘clean coal’ technology has been quietly changed to allow the money to be spent promoting coal use here and overseas.

In the last seven years, only around 20% ($200 million) of the “Coal 21” fund has been spent on researching and developing clean coal technology. Last December, having given up on investigating clean technology the coal industry quietly changed the “Coal 21” fund’s constitution to include promotion of coal. Former chair of the ACA Ian Dunlop says this is “recognition that there is no serious intent” in the industry to move the technology forward and to take the climate problem as seriously and urgently as is necessary.

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Key Quotes

“It is clear that the coal mining industry is out of control.  There are already 100 operating black coal mines in NSW and Queensland and to add another 91 coal mines would be reckless in the extreme. The QLD, NSW and Federal governments need to show some leadership and responsibility to stop the out of control expansion of the coal industry.” Greenpeace climate campaigner, Dr Georgina Woods.

“In a carbon constrained world where energy coal is the biggest contributor to a carbon problem how do you think this is going to evolve… I suspect the usage of thermal coal is going to decline, and frankly, it should.”  Chief Executive, Iron and Coal BHP Billiton Marcus Randolph.

“Every major coal company, in corporate responsibility and sustainability policies, pays lip service to the proposition that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed urgently. In practice, those same companies, via their proxies such as the ACA and the MC, have dedicated vast resources to successfully preventing the introduction of sensible climate change policy in Australia.” Former Chair of the Australian Coal Association Ian Dunlop.

“We are at the brink now and seeing investors starting to wake up to this concept of unbearable carbon. I think that what we are seeing and what I fear seeing is just a dash to exploit a dash for cash on fossil fuels. That is just radically irresponsible and it’s […] very disappointing to see people like the Minerals Council start to attack as extremists those who even raise this notion of a carbon budget.” Climate Institute CEO John Connor.

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  • RT @usefulDesign: OMG! RT @ABCenvironment: Carbon capture and storage money diverted to promote the use of #coal (watch) http://t.co/fxasiYeEIy #CCS #climate
  • RT @kellyrigg: The coal industry is clearly rattled that @CarbonBubble concern taking hold in investment world http://t.co/xoCbXwtcR0
  • RT @megcevans: @AustCoal: says “concept of “unburnable carbon” invalid” -argument basically “but CCS!” http://t.co/enVrl7xvxi http://t.co/bmjl7WTnMx #coal