Time to cease expansion of coal to reduce climate change says Ad

Prominent scientists and environmental organisations have published a full page ad in Monday's Australian Financial Review calling for the cessation of the expansion of coal exports from Australia.

Background: Read Melbourne University Associate Professor Peter Christoff's article on Why Australia must stop exporting coal. Or watch this 2010 lecture by Dr. Guy Pearse from the University of Queensland on Queensland's coal addiction | Greens Leader says 'Look at the damage to humanity caused by people who bankroll coalmines' | Australian Heatwave part of global warming trend says IPCC head Pachauri

More and more people are speaking up on the cost of coal expansion to the climate and biodiversity of the planet. Development of new coal mines, new coal export terminals and growing Coal exports are being done with the support of State and Federal Governments. Yet this is at the expense of and driving climate change producing more intense extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, storms, and bushfires. Coal exports are Australia's biggest contribution to climate change. They need to stop.

See the ad at 350.org. The full text of the ad says:

    Let’s talk about coal

    We, the undersigned, call on Australia to cease the expansion of coal exports from this country and join efforts to prevent global warming running out-of-control and destroying lives and livelihoods here and abroad.

    It is now well understood that heatwaves, fires, floods and droughts are expected to become more frequent and more intense in the coming decades as the planet warms. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, and the Prime Minister have all made the link between climate change and extreme weather. Australia is especially vulnerable to the multiple impacts of climate change.

    To avoid out-of-control global warming and its consequences, greenhouse gas emissions worldwide must peak and decline by the middle of this decade and Australian coal exports must do the same.

    Coal exports are Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change and Australians are suffering its impacts now. We understand that it is not easy for Australians to talk about the role our coal plays in driving climate change, but we can no longer maintain our silence. Our coal is a contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions which have worsened extreme weather. People at home and abroad are suffering as a result.

    Even the World Bank has warned that the world is on track to reach four degrees of global warming within the next eighty-five years. Australia has committed, along with the rest of the international community, to ensure that does not happen. Our choice is clear: cease expansion of coal exports or wilfully threaten the future of our children.

It is almost as if we are stoking the flames ourselves with every truckload or shipload of coal we dig up to be burnt locally or exported to be burnt overseas. Atmospheric CO2 respects no boundaries of state.

As the coal burns, whether in Australian power stations or overseas, it releases millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to cumulatively warm the atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere dries out soils and vegetation, changes rainfall patterns, increases temperatures, causes more extreme droughts, storms and heatwaves. And increases the fireweather conditions. Scientific studies have repeatedly warned us of these impacts which are now coming to fruition. Just read the Climate Commission's latest report: Off the Charts: Extreme Australian summer heat, or the recent World Bank report done by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on 4 degrees: Turn down the heat.

Mainstream Media failing to connect heatwave with climate change

Yet there is a major disconnect between how we view coal mining and bushfires. With the present extreme Australian heatwave mainstream media are predominantly NOT making the connection between climate change and bushfires. Simon Divecha from the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide explains that Media is missing climate in heatwave story

Wendy Bacon, Professor of Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney, raises the lack of media insight on the connection between climate change and the current catastrophic bushfire weather specifically on the well respected Australian Broadcasting Corporation News and current affairs programs.

The few articles that do make this connection do not logically make the next step and implicate coal mining as an essential base cause of climate change and the increasing intensity of bushfires.

Australia is the world coal export leader, and is also heavily reliant on coal power locally. And Australia is busy expanding and opening up new coal mines in the Gunnedah basin in Western New South Wales exported through new coal terminals in Newcastle, and the Bowen and Galilee basins in Western Queensland which also imperils the Great Barrier Reef. We cannot continue to increase coal production and have a safe climate. They are irreconcilable. The science and some basic maths tells us this.

Bill McKibben last year articulated the simple climate maths. To achieve a limit of 2 degrees of warming we can only afford to emit globally 565 gigatonnes of CO2. However, known fossil fuel reserves - oil, coal, natural gas - amount to over five times this quantity, some 2,795 gigatons in reserves.

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees was widely agreed at international climate negotiations. We don't need to do Deep sea drilling, Arctic oil exploration and drilling, hydro-fracking for shale oil, coal seam gas and other unconventional oil and gas deposits. We already have over five times the fossil fuels that we should burn.

So why do we need to develop NEW coal mines?

This must change if we are to take responsibility and reduce fire weather intensity in the future. It will require more regulation by both State and Federal Governments, and more active corporate responsibility for financial investment decisions.

Investment in new coal infrastructure needs to stop

While the coal barons may be criticised for their greed in making a buck out of destroying the climate, we need to look at where they get their finance and support from to develop the mines and infrastructure.

From equity raising through share markets. Investments by superannuation funds. Endowment portfolios such as in the US education sector. Loans from the Banking Sector. And Government support and subsidies through building essential infrastructure and tax breaks.

In the US there is a major campaign by Bill McKibben and others for Universities and Colleges with large endowment investments to divest from fossil fuels. They are starting to have some success and impact too.

We need to hold our Governments accountable for the large subsidies they provide to the mining sector. It is time those subsidies and tax breaks are reduced if not eliminated entirely.

The banking and investment sector, particularly those banks who have signed the Equator principles and market themselves as responsible corporate citizens supporting sustainability and biodiversity, need to be held to account when they invest billions in new coal and fossil fuel development projects. Like the ANZ Bank.

When The ANZ Bank agreed in December 2012 to loan Whitehaven $1.2 billion to underwrite the development of the Maule's Creek open cut mine near Narrabri, it should be held to account. For the loss of biodiversity that will inevitably occur in the Leard State forest and surrounding region, a biodiversity hotspot. And for the carbon pollution and climate change that will result which will increase the intensity of bushfires in the future.

This was the power of the ANZ hoax letter by anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan. It highlighted the hypocrisy of the ANZ Bank in marketing itself as "Green" and "sustainable" while bankrolling activities which are decidedly very polluting, destructive of biodiversity and contributing to global warming imperiling us all, especially future generations.

While ASIC may investigate Jonathan Moylan, the real social criminals like the coal barons Clive Palmer, Gina Rhineheart and Nathan Tinkler, and their investers like the ANZ Bank, are allowed to get on with making a buck, ripping the coal out of the ground to produce more carbon dioxide and climate change, which will produce the fireweather and firestorms of tomorrow.

Of course those who deliberately light fires, especially during Total Fire Ban days, are prosecuted, like the kids found lighting fires in Western Sydney on Tuesday.

Our legal system may fine, or even send to jail those engaged in civil disobedience or disruption to coal mining operations or coal power stations who act out of a sense of justice based upon scientific warnings. It certainly did that with Timothy DeChristopher in the USA who disrupted the corrupt mineral exploration right auction practices and was jailed for two years.

But the really big arsonists who stoke the winds and fires of climate change for profit, who strip mine the earth destroying the small patches of biodiversity and threatened species inconveniently in their way. They go scot free. John Quiggin raises in a blog post: Who are the criminals here?.

Are you angry? You should be.

Nothing will be done to reign in the big arsonists and climate criminals until you speak up to change the legal, regulatory and financial environment that supports their actions.

1. Contact your local State and Federal MP and Senators to stop supporting and subsidising coal mining and to enact legislation with much more stringent community and environmental controls over exploration and development of fossil fuels particularly coal and coal seam gas.

If planning regulations can be introduced to allow people to veto wind farm development such as in Victoria, then surely the community should be allowed veto rights over the far more destructive practices of mineral exploration for coal or CSG and mining development.

The mining companies have had it too easy for far too long. They need to be made much more accountable. To Us. To society. Not just their shareholders. Encourage your elected representatives to implement these changes.

2. Tell your Bank you don't want them to invest in coal and new fossil fuel projects, particularly if they want to be seen as socially responsible and good corporate citizens supporting a sustainable future.

Having trouble finding a bank with enough social responsibility credentials?, then start investigating second level community banks like Bendigo Bank or Credit Unions, many of which now offer the same level of service with far more social responsibility.

Take Action: Sign the ANZ Stop the Loan e-petition

3. Tell your superannuation fund to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest YOUR MONEY in renewables or at least less socially harmful companies. Some funds have in-house or outsourced ethical investment strategies which might already meet this requirement.

Or move your money to a super fund that CAN assure you that your investments do no harm. There are deep green commercial super funds like Australian Ethical Investments that screen out potentially harmful companies and invest in companies with positive corporate social responsibility and environmental policies.

4. Support the organisations which campaign on this issue. All of them rely on volunteers and donations to campaign for a safe environment and climate. Some have had small grants from Governments wound back or ceased due to their campaigning. Here is a partial list from the above ad in the Australian Financial review:

350.org • Australian Conservation Foundation • The Australia Institute • Australian Youth Climate Coalition • Bimblebox Nature Refuge • Cairns and Far North Environment Centre • Capricorn Conservation Council • Central West Environment Council • Climate Action Monaro • Climate Action Network Australia • Climate and Health Alliance • Conservation Council of South Australia • Conservation Council of Western Australia • Doctors for the Environment • Environment Victoria • Friends of the Earth Australia • GetUp! • Hunter Community Environment Centre • Lighter Footprints • Mackay Conservation Group • Mudgee District Environment Group • National Toxics Network • Nature Conservation Council of NSW • North Queensland Conservation Council • Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance • Oxfam Australia • Quit Coal • Stop Brisbane Coal Trains • The Wilderness Society

It is time to stop financing coal mining and stoking the future climate change bushfires.

Lead image by Quit Coal of ANZ protest, Bourke St, Melbourne on 14 January 2013.



It is a good discussion point. Our coal industry certainly fuels global warming, there is no question there. The question is, should we, for arguments sake, cease all coal exports to China? And of course when one considers only the climate aspect the answer most certainly must be yes.

But the answer is not yes. Perhaps we should export uranium to China in place of coal for its future energy needs? China needs a lot of energy, and will continue to need more into the future. Australia is still reliant on coal for the majority of its energy needs. Should we allow ourselves to glut on coal whilst denying coal to China? Is this an ethical choice?

It seems to me that until we have better answers we are locked in a lose lose scenario. It is not possible to stop coal exports, and it would be wrong to do so. To deny a developing country access to energy it needs for its growth and development is morally wrong. We can't be purists here. We can't say that what was right for us is not right for developing nations. That is a misguided approach.

Perhaps before we lecture our exporters we should address our own coal consumption. And until there are real and viable alternatives to coal and nuclear fusion we should be very careful what we wish for. Global warming is a reality. We have to address it in every way we can. But to continue to use coal whilst denying it to others in our region and the rest of the world is shamefully unethical. We are addicted to coal. We can't cure our own addiction. So how can we moralise about the use of our coal by other nations?

Moreover, historically nations have fought wars over resources. If we begin to take the draconian step of refusing to share our natural wealth we are in danger of being attacked some time down the track. Unless we can provide alternatives to coal ax a feasible option for providing the energy needs of these countries we must accept that we have a moral obligation to export our coal to them.

our export coal market far surpasses our own indusrial use of coal. What I am actually saying in this article is we should question opening ANY new coal mines and coal export terminals for emission reduction reasons. Guy Pearse argues strongly that we should phase out coal exports altogether, over a period of about 10 - 15 years. The first step though is stopping new coal mines from being developed, and the new coal infrastructure, some of it publicly funded.

I think we have already gone over the coal peak with stationary energy, in large measure due to the rapidly expanding renewables (primarily wind) sector due to the Renewable Energy Target, and perhaps a little help from the carbon tax in the last 6 months. Certainly we need to do more in transitioning our stationary energy away from coal.

I follow to some extent the trends in China. Yes, their coal powered electricity is ramping up with more coal fired power stations proposed, but they are also putting major resources into solar and wind energy. They have their own coal supplies of course, so if we were to phase down exports, other countries would step in to some extent, but the price of coal would also quite likely rise - more incentive for them to boost renewables production. Especially given the massive air pollution problems they are having, due in large measure to particulates from coal fired power.