Ten years ago, when Bob Brown and the Greens called for a plan to end coal exports, their position was way outside the Oveandrton Window (the range of opinions taken seriously by the political class and commentariat). Ten years later, it’s entirely normal for financial institutions to announce that they will no longer fund coal projects, and for major national governments to join an alliance with the self-explanatory title Powering Past Coal.
The news isn’t all good. For a variety of mostly temporary reasons, China has increased its coal consumption in the last year, so that CO2 emissons are likely to have risen in 2017. But the general direction of public policy and energy investment is clearly right, and even reactionary governments like those of Turnbull and Trump have been powerless to do much about it. After all the posturing of the National Energy Guarantee, the coal lobby in the government had to swallow the announcement that the AGL Liddell power station would be closed and replaced by renewables.
More significantly, the threat that the massive (though low-grade) coal reserves of the Galilee Basin might be developed as a result of the Adani mine-rail-port proposal appears to have been staved off. Labor’s victory in the Queensland state election meant a veto of public loan funding through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (a veto which also encompasses a rival rail project put up by Aurizon) makes it highly unlikely that Adani will find any commercial lenders. This conclusion was confirmed by the announcement that Adani has parted ways with Downer EDI, with which it had a $2 billion agreement to operate the mine. Downer is just the latest in a string of Adani partners to walk, or be pushed away (Posco, Worley Parsons and the bankers who were lining up to lend a few years ago). In the US, Trump’s efforts to save coal have been similarly ineffectual.
Looking beyond coal, we’ve had major developments in battery technology, symbolised by Tesla’s 100 MWh SA battery, which has already proved its worth and discredited the Turnbull/Abbott rhetoric about the reliability of coal. That goes along with electric cars and the announced decision of numerous national governments and some carmakers to go all-electric.
None of this should cause complacency. Turnbull, Trump and various likeminded governments (mostly nascent or actual rightwing dictatorships) are still doing their best to sabotage the planet, and the urgency of the problem is clearer than ever. But overall, this has been a very good year for the global climate.