Old King Coal rules, OK?

September 17, 2010
On September 13, climate change minister Greg Combet swore allegiance to King Coal (pictured). Image: Paola Harvey

Coal rules. That was the message delivered last week by the new Labor government.

Freshly appointed climate change minister Greg Combet began his ministership by telling the September 13 Australian: “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 Green Left Weekly readers are probably already aware that “carbon capture and storage” is a theoretical technology — it is not at the stage of implementation, and is unlikely to get there any time soon.

Combet’s three priorities were identified 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.”

This is true, and the last attempt at climate legislation — then PM Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) — 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 green house 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. He told a business lunch in Sydney on September 15: “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 Kloppers, too, is worried about Greens influence in setting a carbon price, and would rather the Labor and Liberal parties would work out one less detrimental to his industry.

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 September 9 China Daily wrote 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”.

Some in the environment movement are now calling natural gas “clean energy”, but the synthesis gas will have 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 gasified coal power station would, however, nullify this reduction in greenhouse gases.

The federal government’s climate rhetoric, and even its 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, but (as with taxes or emissions trading) they have had a minor impact at best 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 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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