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'Clean Coal' Is A Con And It's Costing Us Lives

This renewed debate, where scant word has been uttered on the inextricable links between coal, climate change and poverty, is maddening.

07/03/2017 7:45 AM AEDT | Updated 07/03/2017 7:49 AM AEDT
Ashley Cooper via Getty Images
There is no such thing as clean coal.

There's been a lot of energy invested this year in a debate over so-called "clean coal" and Australia's electricity supplies.

Recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took to social media to promise to "keep the lights on" and the power bills paid,scant declaring "all forms of generation" have a role to play in our energy sector. A couple of weeks earlier, Treasurer Scott Morrison was waving around a piece of coal in Parliament before it was passed around like a plaything.

Meanwhile, residents in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland have just sweltered through a summer of unrelenting, record-breaking temperatures.

Further afield in the Pacific, our Fijian neighbours have marked the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Winston unleashing its devastating fury on the island nation.

The biggest cyclone in Fiji's history, Winston left a trail of destruction, from which communities are still recovering today.

Tragically, Winston killed 44 people, wiped out whole villages, destroyed an estimated 32,000 houses and left 50,000 people in need of shelter. In dollar terms, the damage bill amounted to one fifth of Fiji's gross domestic product.

The reality is coal is not some benign plaything to be used as a prop for a headline-grabbing stunt in our Federal Parliament.

This is what's missing from the current energy debate. The devastation that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, if we do not curb the use of coal -- the burning of which is the single greatest contributor to climate change.

The reality is coal is not some benign plaything to be used as a prop for a headline-grabbing stunt in our Federal Parliament. It is also no longer the cheapest way to ensure our power bills can be paid.

In Oxfam's work around the world, we know that climate change is not only a driver of record temperatures and increasingly ferocious cyclones, but is also pushing more and more people into deeper poverty. The increasing risk of droughts, floods, hunger and disease caused by climate change is most heavily weighing on the world's most vulnerable communities.

Climate change could drive a staggering 122 million more people into extreme poverty by 2030.

It is already undermining people's ability to feed themselves. Globally, crop yields are likely to decline by 2 percent a decade from the 2030s. Compared to a world without climate change, there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five by 2050 -- 20 times the number of children aged under five in Australia.

Instead of setting about building a smart, clean, reliable and low-cost electricity system, the Australian Government has misled the public about the causes of blackouts and electricity price rises, moved away from renewable energy, and promoted the false promise of "clean coal".

But instead of setting about building a smart, clean, reliable and low-cost electricity system, the Australian Government has misled the public about the causes of blackouts and electricity price rises, moved away from renewable energy, and promoted the false promise of "clean coal". Labor leader Bill Shorten has re-affirmed Labor's commitment to 50 percent renewables by 2030 -- which is certainly a welcome step in the right direction, but it's still short of what is needed.

There is no such thing as clean coal. Limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, as we and all nations committed to strive towards under the Paris Agreement, means there is simply no room for new coal.

The solution is clear -- to help limit warming to 1.5°C, Australia must move towards 100 percent renewable energy. We must reach zero carbon pollution well before mid-century.

While Australia engages in a time-wasting debate, other nations across the globe -- including our closest neighbours -- grapple with the devastating impacts of climate change and move towards renewable energy at a pace that is leaving our country far behind.

Renewable energy sources are now cheaper than coal, even before we take into account coal's cost in terms of carbon pollution. What's more, renewable energy sources are far better placed to help bring electricity to those in poor countries who currently live without it. Even one of the country's major energy generators has questioned the viability of any more "efficient" coal power stations being built in Australia.

Fairfax
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal to Question Time

Developing countries, often the least responsible for climate change and those left to deal with the consequences, are leading the charge against coal and fossil fuels.

At the Marrakech Climate Change Conference last year, the 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum -- the body for the most vulnerable countries to climate change -- committed to strive for 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible, and at the latest by 2030 to 2050.

In 2011, global investment in renewable energy surpassed investment in fossil fuels. In 2013, the world began adding more new power from renewable energy sources than from coal, oil and gas combined. And as of 2015, the world has more installed capacity to generate electricity from renewables than from coal.

Pacific island governments, including Fiji -- which will chair the next round of international climate negotiations -- have repeatedly called for a moratorium on the development of new coalmines and are leading by example with ambitious renewable energy plans. But here in Australia -- a country fortunate to have some of the world's most promising renewable energy potential -- the frustrating debate over coal continues.

This renewed debate, where scant word has been uttered on the inextricable links between coal, climate change and poverty, is maddening.

Developing countries, often the least responsible for climate change and those left to deal with the consequences, are leading the charge against coal and fossil fuels.

I have visited some of our neighbouring countries in the Pacific, where communities are being hit hardest by climate change. Where the people who can least afford it are being forced to adapt as their land is swallowed up and to rebuild in the face of extreme weather events.

In the wake of Cyclone Winston, Oxfam worked with our team in Fiji to deliver vital clean drinking water, sanitation supplies and shelter to those who had been left in dire need. The sobering reality is that if climate change is not addressed, Australia will be called on to respond to more devastating emergencies caused by extreme weather, both here in Australia and abroad.

Fijian leaders used the recent anniversary of Winston's destruction to make an impassioned plea for global action on climate change. It's time for Australia to heed this call and make a radical shift in its utterly out-of-step stance -- a position that is against our own interests and at odds with our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

We must reject the "clean coal" con; lives are at stake.

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