Saturday, September 18, 2010

Coal rules, OK

Coal rules. That is the message delivered this week by the new ALP government.

Freshly appointed Federal Climate Minister, Greg Combet, began his ministership telling The Australian on 13 September that “The coal industry is a very vibrant industry with a strong future. What you've got to do is look to how we can achieve in the longer term things like carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations.”

Regular readers of my articles will probably already be aware that “carbon capture and storage” is a theoretical technology that is not at the stage of implementation (and is unlikely to get there any time soon).

Combet’s three priorities were named as “pursuing renewable energy; energy efficiency; and the development of a carbon price for Australia.” As blogger Doug Evans wrote on September 14, “Combet is not silly and he surely understands that successfully setting a price on carbon sufficient to decrease green house gas emissions will inevitably result in contraction of the coal industry.”

Indeed this is true, and the last attempt at climate legislation – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) under Kevin Rudd was roundly criticised by the climate movement and the Greens, who did not support it. Perhaps the rabidly anti-green Australian is worried that the Greens' new-found influence on the government may actually result in a carbon price “sufficient to decrease greenhouse gas emissions”.

In the same week, the CEO of coal giant BHP – Marius Kloppers – has weighed into the debate to call for a carbon price, and has said that ''Australia will need to look beyond just coal towards the full spectrum of available energy solutions.'' It is a strange day when a coal industry CEO calls for climate action! It is possible that he too is worried about Greens influence in setting a carbon price, and would rather that the Labor and Liberal parties would work out one less detrimental to his industry.

Of course, Kloppers is clear on who needs to pay for the cleanup from his industry. According to the September 16 Age, Kloppers “said climate change was a politically charged issued, but that governments would have to take the difficult step of explaining to consumers that fuel and energy costs would increase… Mr Kloppers said the carbon price signal must reach consumers so consumption was cut, and should be neutral to the budget, with all revenue raised returned to individuals and businesses.”

At the same time in Victoria, a new plan has been announced for a gasified coal power station to be built by local company HRL and the China National Electric Equipment Corporation.

The China Daily wrote on September 9 that the power station would be “adopting the most advanced low-emission technology-integrated drying gasification for lignite to produce synthesis gas” making it “the largest clean energy power project by lignite gasification technology by far.”

Although even some in the environment movement are now calling natural gas “clean energy”, the synthesis gas will have much higher emissions, roughly equivalent to a black coal burning power station.

Feeling electoral pressure from the Greens, the Victorian government has recently announced it will shut down one quarter of Australia’s most polluting power station, Hazelwood. The new HRL power station would of course nullify the benefit of this.

The government’s climate rhetoric, and even their few genuine plans to build renewable energy and energy efficiency, is meaningless if fossil fuel use continues to grow. Carbon prices are presented as a silver bullet, yet (as taxes or emissions trading) they have had minor to zero impact wherever they have been tried.

More and more, government climate policy is a front for the growing “greenhouse mafia” of the big fossil fuel industries. The climate movement has to ensure that the government and big business do not get away with greenwashing the escalating use of fossil fuels. Their false words must be exposed, and every positive step must be met with a demand for more. This is too important to play nice politics: the welfare of future generations depends on our actions now.

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