Coal – The Captain’s Call & It’s Catastrophic Implications

The last few days have demonstrated just how far out of touch the Australian media and political incumbency are from critical climate change events happening around the world.

The Australian recently launched yet another tirade against supposed bias in the ABC’s handling of climate change, followed up by a stern Editorial lecture (Media Watch fails abjectly as a guardian of standards, 4th August 2015). Pretty rich from an organization which supposedly accepts the climate science and the need for urgent action, but spends its time trawling the literature for the slightest micro evidence that climate change is either not happening, or is of far less concern than the mainstream science is indicating. As well as providing an ever-open platform for absolute climate deniers to sow further disinformation and obfuscation, based on no science or hard evidence whatsoever, disrupting the development of sensible climate policy.

The Australian Financial Review subsequently condemned “eco-activists” for the costs they are supposedly inflicting on the Australian community (Eco-activism is a major cost to the community, 6th August 2015) after the courts overturned Federal Government approval of the Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin. Instead of condemnation, these activists should be congratulated for their fiscal responsibility in trying prevent substantial economic damage and wasted assets, which will be the outcome if the Galilee Basin coal developments are allowed to proceed.

Predictably we then had the Prime Minister’s Captain’s Call. Coal, we are told yet again, is essential for the future of humanity, and for the alleviation of poverty in countries like India. Every other consideration must now be subjugated to the interests of these major projects proceeding. Not just in the Galilee Basin, but also the Shenhua Watermark mine in the Liverpool Plains, coal seam gas everywhere and a host of others.

The preservation of biodiversity, such as the snakes and skinks in Galilee is important, but the real issue is climate change. Clearly the incumbency does not understand the implications of the latest climate science and evidence of climate change impact around the world.

Climate change is happening far faster and more extensively than officially acknowledged, largely driven by human carbon emissions.  We are experiencing substantial economic and social disruption at the 1oC warming which has already occurred relative to pre-industrial levels, let alone the additional 1oC to which we are probably committed by virtue of historic emissions. The official limit of 2oC warming is not safe, it is now highly dangerous.

If the Galilee Basin and Watermark projects proceed, it will have catastrophic climate consequences, akin to other large high-carbon expansions such as the Canadian Tar Sands.  Quite simply, as the IMF, IEA, World Bank and other authorities state, these developments cannot be allowed to happen.

Poverty, far from being alleviated by them, will be created. Have the incumbency “experts” thought about the implications of the extreme events happening right now on the Indian Subcontinent – unprecedented heat last week, unprecedented rainfall now, to which climate change is contributing significantly? Not to mention extensive damage in North America from extreme drought and fires as the El Nino intensifies, as we will no doubt experience shortly. All occurring at only 1oC global warming.

Those who lead economic debate in this country need to wake up to the fact that climate change will be the factor having the greatest impact on the Australian economy and society from now, to the point that it will fundamentally change our economic and business models.  It should be at the top of the agenda for the forthcoming National Reform Summit being promoted by both newspapers, but it is a fair bet it will not even feature.

This Captain’s Call, if the Prime Minister gets his way, will be the biggest economic disaster in Australia’s history and will fundamentally undermine our National Security. Sounder heads must prevail.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is a Member of the Club of Rome, a Director of Australia21 and a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.

 An edited version of this article appeared in Renew Economy on 7th August 2015: