Scott Morrison’s menu still doesn’t offer an emissions-free option


“We can have no new fossil fuels, no extension of coal, no new gas … all must be banned if you are serious about Paris,” Steffen said.

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Greens leader Adam Bandt has gone as far as anyone from his party to create a policy space that Labor and the Coalition could conceivably enter.

Bandt’s green new deal policy calls for an exit from thermal coal, the major contributor to Australia’s emissions when burned in power plants and to global emissions when exported overseas.

But the policy also promotes opportunities to mine metals to build renewable energy infrastructure like batteries and wind turbines, and for manufacturing with green aluminium and steel.

The chief executive of the powerful Minerals Council, Tania Constable, said she was happy to accept Bandt’s request for a meeting, highlighting the role of mining in a low-emissions economy and her organisation’s commitment to the Paris agreement.

“The MCA will soon release a detailed Climate Action Plan which complements the already strong efforts by our members on climate change,” she said.

The Mount Weld mine in WA, where rare earth minerals are being extracted.Credit:Trevor Collens

“The global transition to low-emissions technologies – including solar, wind, batteries, gas, advanced coal and nuclear energy – depends on the metals and raw materials provided by the minerals sector.”

Yet the Minerals Council remains a strong advocate for thermal coal.

Illustration: Richard Giliberto

Illustration: Richard GilibertoCredit:

“Exporting Australia’s high-quality coal can help displace poor-quality coals,” Constable said. “Australia’s investment in technology means coal can be used in the future in tandem with carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions further and meet the goals of the Paris agreement.”

Bandt said that while a swift transition from thermal coal was necessary, the nation “owes a debt” to the coal workers who “helped power the Australian economy and contributed to our success”.

“We have an obligation to see no one is left behind,” he said. “We’ve seen transition done very badly in the past – just look at the car industry.

“Government needs to take the reins and oversee transition so we grow jobs and industry in areas where coal mines and power stations exist at the moment.

“I want a manufacturing renaissance in Australia, for Australia to be an energy superpower and to process the minerals here which we need for a renewable economy.”

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Steggall, who defeated former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah at last year’s federal election by campaigning on a climate change platform, will introduce a private member’s bill that would commit Australia in law to the Paris climate agreement.

Steggall said Warringah voters “put me here to be the sensible voice” on climate change, and “irrespective of some members of parliament describing climate change as an inner city green concern, it’s impacting everyone in Australia”.

“This bill is as sensible a centre as possible, so a vast majority of Australians can get on board and support it,” she said.

At the heart of Steggall’s Bill is an independent, expert body modelled on Britain’s Committee on Climate Change, which has successfully guided policy to meet the legally binding target to hit net zero emissions by 2050.

Dubbed the Climate Change Commission, the body would have a remit to recommend policy to wean industry off coal-fired power and onto renewables, or to replace industries that weren’t viable under the zero emissions regime.

Zali Steggall has crossbench support for her private climate change bill.

Zali Steggall has crossbench support for her private climate change bill.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“I know there are some critics who say this Bill doesn’t go far enough, but I’ve tried really hard to find the common ground,” Steggall said. “There is something in this for all communities, regardless of their political affiliation.”

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor broke new ground on the climate change front for the government when he said on Monday he expected to release a “long-term emissions reduction strategy” ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November.

The announcement was closely followed by ructions in the Coalition over climate policy.

Committed to coal: Resources Minister Keith Pitt.

Committed to coal: Resources Minister Keith Pitt.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Taylor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have repeatedly said Australia would “meet and beat” its 2030 Paris targets, potentially without controversial Kyoto carryover credits.

However when asked last week if Australia should commit to net zero emissions by 2050,  Morrison said he would “never make a commitment like that if I couldn’t tell the Australian people what it would cost them”.

Freshly-minted Resources Minister Keith Pitt told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that he saw no need for an industry transition policy for thermal coal.

“As Resources Minister I highlight that the International Energy Agency confirms that coal will remain an important part of the world’s energy mix decades into the future, remaining the single largest source of electricity to 2040,” he said.

“The coal industry contributes more than $6 billion annually in royalties, accounts for over 50,000 direct jobs, and helps maintain the living standard of every Australian.”

Labor resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said while there was a need for transition planning in ageing coal-fired power stations, thermal coal had good prospects.

“There is no coal mining transition in Australia. There is a transition underway in the coal generation sector as our power plants approach the end of their physical and economic lives but the great bulk of our thermal coal is exported into growing markets, as is our metallurgical coal.

“While we must always work hard to build regional economic diversity, the coal mining industry will be with us for many years to come and that’s a good thing.”

But Finkel argued fossil fuels, along with carbon capture and storage, should be deployed.

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“By producing hydrogen from natural gas or coal, using carbon capture and permanent storage, we can add back two more lanes to our energy highway, ensuring we have four primary energy sources to meet the needs of the future – solar, wind, hydrogen from natural gas and hydrogen from coal.”

If the government can finally agree to a shift in policy, there are a wealth of road signs pointing in a new direction from the private sector.

Energy giant BP said this week it will aim to eliminate or offset carbon emissions from oil and gas sales by 2050. The world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, announced last month it was exiting investments in coal-fired power, and it would ask clients to disclose their climate-related risks.

The $25 billion Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory has been welcomed by the Minerals Council, which highlights vast amounts of lithium will be needed for the 22 million panels in what would be the world’s biggest solar farm.

A report from late last year by Melbourne University’s Energy Transition Hub, From Mining to Making: Australia’s Future in Zero Emissions Metal, argues that Australia has “enormous potential” to develop new processes, using renewable energy, to create a zero-carbon metal industry that generates 65,000 jobs and $100 billion in export revenue.

Finkel called for an end to the “blame game” over climate and a new era of constructive policy for industry and emissions.

“Your solution is not the only solution. This is complex, we need to be meeting in the middle in the great vortex of all these technological solutions,” he said.

“For people to say this is the way forward and there is no other possible pathway to be considered, I actually think that is the biggest part of the problem. Be open-minded, be positive.”

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