Fossil Fuels Risk

BY: Tracey Carpenter

This week is the anniversary of superstorms Sandy in the US and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; a sobering reminder of the devastating consequences of climate change.

Meanwhile, at home, the Australian parliament chose this week to take yet another step backwards on the global challenge of tackling the not-so-small problem that Australia has the dirtiest economy in the world. The Coalition has added to its policy list of ‘un’-doings to push through Direct Action (or potentially climate ‘in’ action). So instead of paying penalties for planet-threatening pollution big businesses will be offered taxpayers money for projects that absorb carbon dioxide. Not only expensive ($2.5 billion), the scheme is predicted to be open to rorting and cumbersome to police. We’ve already seen the post carbon ‘tax’ cut to power bills fail to materialise once the political bandwagon moved on. Now the climate witch-hunt is trying to un-do the renewable energy target with claims it is driving up electricity prices. Cutting the legislated 41,000GWh renewable energy target is designed to protect coal-fired generators and kill competition in the energy market which will increase prices further.

Economically it’s hard to make sense of the government’s strategy. Our mineral resources, particularly coal, are being knocked by declining prices and struggling to hold market share internationally. The downward trend bit hard in Lithgow this week with a loss of 260 jobs. But instead of embracing opportunities for $15 billion of investment in new industries and jobs the Government has decided to close the door on the renewable energy industry. There are 3 times more jobs in renewable energy per dollar compared to the fossil fuel sector. Another former coal fired power generator, Port Augusta, started planning its transition from fossil fuels jobs to solar thermal generation some years ago. Perhaps our local politicians should be encouraging renewable energy enterprises to provide replacement jobs in this region too.

Whilst the Coalition seems embedded with the fossil fuel companies investors are showing real nervousness over the risks associated with fossil fuel investments. The momentum behind the withdrawal of capital is two fold. The potential for assets to become stranded by restrictions and the high cost of emissions. Secondly based on ethical decisions and fear of stranded assets by banks under pressure not to finance processes that cause massive environmental damage. Four international banks have now withdrawn backing for Abbott Point Coal port in the Great Barrier Reef. Other people’s governments too are shying away from fossil fuels – backing the transition to renewable energy. China leads the world in renewable energy and have now banned burning dirty coal in its major cities due to the intolerable air pollution and human health impacts of burning coal. They’ve also announced a tariff on all coal imports, which set off the sirens in Lithgow.

Transforming our own energy supply is acknowledged as the most critical and responsible action we can take to clean up our economy and tackle climate change - it’s fast becoming an economic imperative as well.

Tracey Carpenter is Chair of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network