The end of coal is nigh – someone just needs to tell the Turnbull government
Malcolm Turnbull stated that coal will be an important part of Australia’s future “for many, many decades to come.”
But that statement has been undermined by the bipartisan Senate Environment and Communications Committee, which released an interim report on the Retirement of coal fired power stations in Australia.
The report is timely because coal is currently Australia’s biggest source of climate pollution, and with Australia having recently ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s very clear that our commitment to cut carbon pollution is inconsistent with using coal to generate energy.
One clear measure is the fact that per capita Australia has one of the highest levels of carbon pollution in the developed world. That means that every Australian is responsible for producing more pollution than people in other similar economies.
Not surprisingly, the senate committee report calls on the government to create a comprehensive national energy transition plan including a mechanism for the orderly retirement of coal fired power generation, and the establishment of an energy transition authority to manage the transition, particularly for workers and communities in regions such as the Latrobe Valley.
Despite ongoing opposition from a group of rogue coalition senators headed by Liberal David Bushby, the fact is that the committee’s key recommendations were largely endorsed by Australia’s biggest power companies, academics, unions and affected communities like those in the Latrobe Valley.
These are the groups with the most skin in the game when it comes to an energy transformation in Australia – and they are all calling for a national transition plan. They realise that closure of dirty coal-burning power stations is happening and it needs to be managed so that the process is orderly and takes care of impacted communities.
Systematic retirement of coal generators will encourage more investment in clean energy sources and planned closure will also allow time to better prepare communities for the transition and ensure adequate policies for mine and generator rehabilitation.
There are 24 operating coal-burning generators in Australia. The report states that the question is not if coal-fired power stations will close but how quickly and orderly these closures will occur and what supporting policies, if any, will be in place to help manage the process.
Further, if Australia is to meet our international commitments to the Paris climate agreement including emissions reductions consistent with the 2C goal, our existing coal stations essentially need to have closed by the early 2030s. The Climate Institute has calculated that this is roughly equivalent to the rate of the equivalent of a Hazelwood a year.
That’s a tall order – but the need to do so is getting more urgent by the day.
Just this month it has been revealed that an investigation led by eminent marine scientists into the impact of the Great Barrier Reef’s recent coral bleaching event show that in the worst affected area 67 per cent of a 700km area in the north of the reef has lost its shallow-water corals over the past eight to nine months.
This finding by Professor Terry Hughes from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University also determined that: “Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef.”
Further, scientists expect that the northern region will take at least 10 to 15 years to regain the lost corals, but are concerned a fourth bleaching event could happen sooner and interrupt the slow recovery.
This concern is not surprising given that this year is on track to become the hottest year on record, with global temperatures measuring 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization(WMO).
Global temperatures this year will likely beat the previous record set in 2015 by 0.2 degrees Celsius, setting a new high for the third year in a row. “Another year, another record,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement released at the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech this month. By the end of 2016, 16 out of 17 hottest years on record will have been in this century, with 1998 as the outlier, the WMO said.
This speed and intensity of warming does not bode well for our beloved Reef. Climate action becomes ever more critical when the losses we all face from global warming are put in stark terms like the loss of the Great Barrier Reef along with all the beauty and life it-and all coral reefs–represent.
As the coal closure senate committee findings have confirmed – Australia’s ability to meet our climate commitments and to genuinely take steps to save our Reef require replacement of dirty coal with clean energy. These findings should be headed by government as a matter of urgency.