Increasing the number of coal mines will only increase the level of global poverty stemming from the consequences of increased climate change and the direct impact coal mining and burning has on local communities.
These are the primary conclusions from a new report published this week by the international poverty organization Oxfam. The new report, More Coal Equals More Poverty, focuses primarily on Australia’s coal-related policies and plans as one of the world’s leading exporters of coal. Much has been said recently about Australia’s energy policies — too much to get into here — specifically regarding the plans to build a massive new coal mine in Carmichael, in the country’s northeast, by Indian conglomerate Adani (which has recently been deferred indefinitely).
The report specifically highlights the significant toll coal mines have on vulnerable communities — a point which, Oxfam notes, has been largely missing from the discussion over climate and energy policy in Australia. Additionally, the report points out that coal is inherently unsuited to meeting the needs of the world’s poor. Coal requires massive levels of infrastructure — both to build a working and efficient coal mine (or even an inefficient one) as well as to actually transport the generated electricity — which, by its very nature, does not exist in the parts of the world which need reliable electricity. Protestations from Australian politicians seeking to expand the country’s coal industry through even greater export numbers fail to realize (or seek to ignore) the reality that coal cannot provide the very same electricity solutions for the world’s poor that they are promising.
Further, increasing the number of coal mines has been clearly shown to increase global warming and climate change. Again, increasing the damage of climate change will hurt the world’s poor before it hurts the world’s financially secure. The Oxfam report points out that, “For millions of families, climate change is not a distant threat but a real and present danger — affecting their ability to grow and buy enough to eat, fuelling extreme weather disasters in their regions, displacing people from their land and homes, and costing lives.” This is, needless to say, not a problem found throughout the western world.
“The Federal Government’s failure to curb Australia’s carbon pollution and obstinate push to expand the nation’s coal exports continues despite the overwhelming evidence that coal and climate change is putting communities in Australia and around the world at increasing risk of harm,” said Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke.
“Against the backdrop of an imperilled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb — the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism.
“The real cost of burning more coal will be measured in further entrenched poverty – through the escalating impacts of climate change and humanitarian disasters, increasing hunger, and deaths and disease caused by pollution.”
Add into the equation the fact that once-major importers of Australian coal, India and China, are now seeking to reduce their coal imports altogether, while also reducing their countries’ reliance on coal generation in favor of ever larger renewable energy capacity. India is likely set to reach 275 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity within the next decade — more than five times the total capacity of Australia’s electricity system — and is hoping to completely end coal imports. China has suspended more than 100 new coal plants, and long ago decided to decrease and erase Australian coal imports.
Oxfam’s report, therefore, urges Australia’s government to “develop a comprehensive, long-term plan of action for transforming our own energy system and supporting developing countries to confront the climate crisis and build the clean economies of the future.” Specifically:
- A commitment to no new coalmines or coalmine expansions in Australia, including saying no to Adani’s Carmichael mega mine, coupled with increased support for renewable energy plans in developing countries.
- The complete phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels from Australia’s energy system, including shifting to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Australia must achieve zero emissions before 2040.
- Greater support to vulnerable countries with adapting to the escalating impacts of climate change.
“Australia must stop clinging to technologies of the past and help bring an end to the fossil fuel era,” said Szoke. “This means committing to no new coalmines — including Adani’s proposed mega mine in Queensland – and ruling out public funding for new coal infrastructure. It means rapidly phasing out coal from our own electricity supply and increasing support for renewable energy in developing countries.”
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