Mining billionaire Clive Palmer has just been awarded the deal of the century. Under an arrangement financed by China (from where he borrowed the money), Clive Palmer will export $69 billion worth of thermal coal from new coal mines in central Queensland. This deal, which still requires government approval, pits coal against coral.
The irony is that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast from where this coal will be dug, is one of the many casualties of the emissions. The Great Barrier Reef provides $6.5 billion to our economy each year, which are benefits that are ongoing and which will never run out as long as we protect the Reef. It is also central to our pride as the nation, and is perhaps our most precious environmental icon.
In raw economic terms, the benefits from a $69 billion coal deal are only equivalent to 10 years of the $ benefits from a thriving tourist industry on the Great Barrier Reef.
So what will PM Kevin Rudd and our government do? On one hand, they face harassment from opposition that can’t even count (e.g. opp. finance spokesman, Barnaby Joyce) and which fails to take the advice of its best scientists on anthropogenic climate change seriously (e.g. senior Nick Minchin). On the other hand, after playing such a prominent role in pushing for emission cuts at the climate treaty negotiations, it would seem that the Rudd government has no other choice but to knock this is a deal on the head. After all, anything else would be inconsistent with its position on taking climate change seriously.
Clive Palmer (who seems to be a man with more than enough money) has been pushing the jobs barrow, which is one way to sell this to the Australian public. But what about the damage caused by this coal to this in Australia’s future? It is not a trivial amount.
Australia currently exports 30% of the coal used worldwide, and expects countries overseas to deal with the resulting dangerous emissions (i.e. it is not even counted in our carbon footprint). The latter represents a huge copout given that there are no known solutions to dealing with these emissions. Even technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) have yet to be demonstrated on a broad scale and are only expected to significantly impact emissions 20 or so years into the future. And that is will be too late.
Sounds like passing the buck to me. I believe that we should hold our government accountable and prevent this coal deal from going forward. This would be a logical and ethical thing to do under any other circumstance. Just imagine if we had developed a wonderful new chemical technology that would earn Australia lots of money but which had huge environmental impacts and devastating societal consequences. Would it be ethical to export this technology and hope that our customers would invent something to deal with the impacts?