Australia is currently in the middle of a coal rush. Coupled with the exploration of coal seam gas expanding at a rapid rate across Queensland and New South Wales, this looks (on paper) to be one of the country’s biggest and most rapid industry expansions in our short history.
Australia is currently the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal and ranks sixth in exports of thermal coal. In 2012, we sold around $60 billion worth of coal, mostly to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Looking to the future, Australia’s national energy policy, the Energy White Paper, anticipates strong demand from these nations for Australian coal and prioritises coal production as a core element of energy for the coming decades.
Around 30 new coal mines and coal mine expansions are planned for New South Wales and Queensland, and if they proceed would more than double Australia’s current coal exports of more than 300 million tonnes per annum.
Much of the current expansion of coal is predicated on rising demand from China, and India; a stable global economic environment; and industry denial about climate science.
These assumptions have shaky foundations and investors should heed the clear warning from risk experts of the imminent destruction of value of high-carbon investments and that climate change will continue to deliver systemic shocks to regional and global economies.
The ACCC has been vigilant about following up the 45 or so carbon price gouging complaints it gets each day. But who can stop the politicians? Their relentless carbon price scare campaigns seek to frighten, rather than inform, an increasingly polarised public who should be getting the facts on health and climate change.
Take, for example, the Liberal Health Minister in Victoria, David Davis. His recent contribution to the climate discussion was a leaflet for distribution across Melbourne’s eastern suburbs which suggested that the “carbon tax will hurt patients”. He said that hospitals will face a $13 million “tax bill” because “Julia Gillard doesn’t care.”
In actual fact, there is no such tax bill. Even if electricity costs rose by $13 million, it would reflect less than 0.1% of total health expenditure. Given that the Commonwealth will be footing the bill for 50% of the cost of hospital care from 2014, the states can hardly claim the burden as their own.
THERE has been much recent negative media about climate change — from harmful effects on human health, consequences for infrastructure and communities, through to concerns about the impact of Australia’s carbon price on the economy.
But there is a positive story about climate change that warrants media attention.
This good news story is the potential for health benefits from action on climate change. The changes needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the energy, transport, built environment, and food and agriculture sectors could also lead to substantial improvements in health.
Fiona is the author of the recently released paper: Our Uncashed Dividend: The Health Benefits of Climate Action, jointly published by the Climate and Health Alliance and The Climate Institute as a joint report.
This report draws together a large and growing body of evidence from health and medical research showing substantial health benefits linked to measures to cut emissions.
It demonstrates that actions that cut greenhouse gas emissions can improve Australians’ health and could save billions of dollars for health care budgets and save thousands of lives each year.
This report reflects the fact that it is becoming clear that many activities that cut emissions will also improve health and vice versa. While emissions reductions are also important strategies to act on climate change, the benefits for health are significant and available immediately, while the climate benefits accumulate in the longer term. The report is supported by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).
Don’t tell ‘em it’s good for ‘em or they’ll eat it by the boxful. While our politicians remain embroiled in a toxic battle over carbon laws, the health and productivity benefits of climate actions have been ignored. Yet research from around the world strongly suggests that billions of dollars and thousands of lives can be saved with actions that also just happen to cut the risk of climate change.
Consider, for starters, that air pollution in this country kills more people every year than the road toll. The annual health bill from our addiction to coal-fired power costs us $2.6 billion and $3.3 billion from trucks and cars.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison recently reviewed dozens of studies of the money saved by improvements in air quality. The average benefit was around A$46 for every tonne of carbon dioxide avoided. This makes Australia’s starting carbon price of $23 per tonne look a bargain.
The birth of Australia’s carbon price legislation is predictably being heralded by the chorus of criticism that has accompanied its gestation, despite the early distribution of handouts as the government attempts to buy its way through the noise.
While the #cashforyou compensation might muffle some of the clamour, it certainly can’t be countered by the mysterious silence about what the carbon price is for and what it will do, other than line the pockets of Australians. The decision by the government to label the carbon price package the ”clean energy future” represents a pragmatic reading of the political mood, as well as the need for a positive ”frame” with which to ”sell” it, but there remains an ongoing failure to describe the point of the legislation – or what it can deliver.
There is however an untold story of good news associated with this, the beginnings of our national emissions reduction strategy, which has been completely overlooked in government communications and in other commentary – and that is the improvements in public health and economic savings that accompany emissions reductions. For while there will indeed be climate benefits, they are far off in the future and will only be realised by a considerable ramping up of emissions reductions, far beyond a 5 per cent by 2020 target or a $23/tonne carbon price. The health benefits however are available much sooner than that.
Why are political conservatives more inclined to dismiss climate science? Can one’s political ideology influence the interpretations of data?
The latest salvo in the war of words about climate change from the blogger in the bowels of News Ltd suggests the recent floods are further evidence that climate change isn’t happening, won’t affect Australians, and that scientists are getting it all wrong.
While there is little to gain from responding directly to the arguments of climate deniers, given the reliance on cherry-picking of quotes and data (or to be more accurate, a willingness to deliberately misrepresent scientific evidence), it is worth pursuing the broader motivations behind climate science denial as well as the psychological factors that influence people’s responses to complex global issues such as climate change.
Change in our known environment can be challenging. Investing in safe community infrastructure is important for all of us. In making decisions about our future energy supply, we must consider the costs of current forms of electricity generation on climate change and health for all members of the community, including those living in proximity to infrastructure. Fortunately for the community and the climate, wind power offers a safe, reliable, climate-friendly alternative to harmful and high emissions from coal, and is available now at prices we can afford.
In the final week in Durban a sense of frustration is permeating the COP, where aspirations for a global deal remain high, but expectations swing between mildly hopeful and almost absent.
In terms of progress in the discussions, China is signalling a openness to legally binding obligations but stonewalling by New Zealand, Canada, Russia, the US and Japan means there is little hope of any final decisions on legal form. Many negotiating efforts by the big polluting nations appear to be about delaying decisions for as long as possible, with the staggeringly irresponsible date of 2020 for mandatory emissions cuts being advocated by the US.
Filling the coffers of the Green Climate Fund, for adaptation and mitigation in developing nations agreed to at Cancun, is also proving difficult; promised funds are failing to materialise and many nations are reluctant to name the figure they will commit in order to realise the agreed goal of $US100 billion per year by 2020.
The beachside city of Durban is packed, with 10,000 people from 194 countries in town for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to negotiate the next step in the process of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It’s also the 7th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7), the mechanism through which the Protocol is implemented, and the central subject of this meeting, as nations wrestle with what arrangements can be put in place to replace or extend the agreements under the Protocol which expires in 2012.
The glaring chasm in the discussions is the gap between stated commitments of countries to cut emissions and those recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report (and confirmed by more recent evaluations, such as the Australian Climate Commission’s Critical Decade report in May). This ‘discrepancy’ was acknowledged in the Cancun Agreements, but subsequent indications of willingness to act and the negotiations here suggest there is a widespread delusional disorder among many nations that postponement will not carry profound risk and that delay due to poor political appetite is somehow justified.