Labor’s coal expansion fuels climate breakdown

“Climate breakdown has begun,” the UN’s Antonio Guterres has declared, after the world’s hottest three months on record. Unprecedented fires have ravaged Canada, Hawaii and countries across the Mediterranean. Floods have followed in Greece, Turkey, Libya and Hong Kong.

Yet Australian governments are pouring more fuel on the fire. Despite warnings that new coal and gas projects are incompatible with a safe planet they are intent on expanding and extending the life of fossil fuels.

The NSW Labor government wants to use public money to extend the life of Eraring, the country’s largest coal power station. Keeping it open beyond its August 2025 closure date is likely to cost between $200 million and $400 million a year.

This is money that should go into speeding up the transition to renewables.

Claims that the lights will go out if Eraring closes are wrong. Existing plans for renewable energy are more than enough to deal with its closure.

Even the NSW’s government own review, being used to justify their plans, says that the only risk exists “should new network and firming infrastructure not arrive on time”—and that there are also other options if this happens.

A report from the Australian Energy Market Operator in late August too says there is no risk to supply from the planned closure.

Reliance on private investment and market mechanisms is slowing the pace of the roll-out. But instead of planning the massive, direct public investment required, the NSW government would prefer to subsidise coal industry profits.

More coal mines

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has also approved another coal mine—giving the go-ahead to an expansion of the Gregory Crinum mine in Queensland until 2073. This is the fourth new coal project approved since Labor’s election.

Coal mine approvals so far this year will add almost 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over their lives—about one-third of Australia’s annual emissions.

This does not include state government approvals that can go ahead without a federal government decision. The day after the federal approval, Queensland ticked off another mine, the Caval Ridge Horse Pit extension, adding a further 440 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

Labor’s claims about climate action are a dangerous farce. Even its hopeless target of 43 per cent emissions cuts by 2030 is moving out of reach.

In the last year Australia’s emissions increased by 4.1 million tonnes.

As the Australia Institute’s Polly Hemming told The Saturday Paper, “With every month that goes by, the task gets harder. In June last year, in order to achieve a 43 per cent reduction, we would have had to reduce emissions by 7.3 million tonnes each quarter. Now to stay on track, we have to cut 8.6 million tonnes every quarter.”

Since 2005 emissions have fallen by only 1.4 per cent, if the reduction in the pace of land clearing is excluded. Including it puts the drop around 24 per cent.

There have been massive increases to emissions from mining and producing gas for export, up 26.7 per cent since 2005, due to the large amounts of energy required to produce LNG.

Most of the emissions from mining coal and gas are produced offshore when they are burned. But mining also creates “fugitive emissions” from gases that escape in the process of mining. These make up 10 per cent of total emissions and are up 12.8 per cent since 2005.

They are also likely to be a massive underestimate. Data from the International Energy Agency said methane emissions from coal mining were actually 81 per cent higher than reported, and 92 per cent higher for oil and gas.

As summer and a new El Nino warming cycle approaches, we can expect extreme heat and renewed bushfires here too.

Labor’s backing for fossil fuels is a criminal gamble with the future of the planet. School Strike for Climate is planning rallies on 17 November, ahead of a blockade of the Newcastle coal port and protests during this year’s COP28 summit in early December.

We need a climate movement on a scale that reflects the urgent crisis we are facing.

By James Supple


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