It doesn't add up
It doesn't add up on the health front. It doesn't add up on the environmental front. And despite the protestations of people like Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan, it doesn't even come close to adding up on the jobs front.
These are the conclusions of a new report by the Climate Council which looks into Indian resources giant Adani's proposed Carmichael Coal Mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
If built, Carmichael would be Australia's largest ever coal mine. It would have six open cut pits as well as numerous underground mines. Coal would be transported 200 kilometres to a terminal at Abbott Point, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. And it would only be the beginning.
According to the report, the development of the Carmichael mine would likely pave the way for other coal mines to go ahead in Queensland's Galilee Basin. The basin has around 250,000 square kilometres of thermal coal. If it were developed, Australia's carbon emissions would more than double.
Here's another way of looking at that
In recent years, Australia has been stuck at or around number 16 on the list of the world's worst emitters of carbon dioxide -- the gas which scientists are certain is strongly contributing to the fastest rate of atmospheric and oceanic warming in human history.
If the Carmichael and other nearby coal mines go ahead, the Galilee Basin alone would hurdle the rest of Australia on that list, and rank in the top 15 emitting "countries" in its own right.
"Developing the Carmichael mine fundamentally undermines any national or state action to tackle climate change," the report says.
Jobs? What jobs?
Professor Will Steffen of the Climate Council told The HuffPost Australia that there's no way these sorts of projects can be given the green light in an age where more and more extreme weather events are directly attributable to rising temperatures.
"I think we're at a real tipping point, not just with Adani but more generally. The evidence is now really strong. People can actually see the bleaching on reef, the excess heat. There should be no new coal projects anywhere in the world, and existing ones should be phased out."
Despite talk of as many as 5,000 jobs in the construction and operational phase of the Carmichael mine alone, Steffen said he was extremely sceptical of the promise of employment in an industry which is shrinking in China and many other countries.
"We did a study along with Ernst & Young based on the premise where Australia went to 50 percent renewables by 2030 [we're currently at about 14 percent] with no new fossil fuel projects. We found a net employment increase, and we're talking tens of thousands."
In other words, there are more jobs in the expanding renewables sector, and more reliable ones too. As the report says:
"The Carmichael mine is a risky financial investment and promises of economic benefit are overblown. Plummeting costs of renewable energy and the reduced coal demand from China combined with India's aggressive move towards energy self-sufficiency all place new coalmines, and associated rail/port infrastructure investments, on shaky ground, increasing the risk of stranded assets."
An unhealthy choice
The report also highlights the health impacts of coal -- a major issue which is often drowned out in the fight between climate change action and jobs.
"Particulate air pollution (fine particles that enter the lungs) caused 4.2 million deaths globally in 2015. Burning of coal is a major source of particulate air pollution. In India, to which the coal from Adani's Carmichael mine in Queensland will most likely be exported, an estimated 80,000 to 115,000 people die from coal pollution each year."
The above paragraph is a pretty good counter to the "energy poverty" argument, which is often advanced in favour of the Carmichael mine, which would export huge quantities of coal to India.
"India definitely needs electricity and power to bring people out of poverty, but it needs to do it in a way that has health benefits not detriments," Steffen said.
But can renewables can come on stream fast enough?
"I think the tide is turning really fast," Steffen said.
"This is an industrial revolution. My view is that these old technologies did a great job of lifting the world out of the ashes of World War II, but we're now undergoing a wave of really rapid technological advances.
"The price of renewables is plummeting and storage technologies are also developing very fast. There's no doubt we're in an energy revolution."
Meanwhile, Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said the report shows that the Carmichael mine also puts puts at risk the Great Barrier Reef and Australia's agriculture industry.
"We can have coal mining or we can have a healthy reef," she said. "But we can't have both."
The federal government appears likely to make a decision on the Carmichael mine in June. It already has Queensland government approval.
You can download the "Risky Business: Health, Climate and Economic Risks of the Carmichael Coalmine" report right here from 10 am on Thursday.
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