Thanks to the efforts of Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) and the Environment Council of Central Queensland (EcoCeQ,), Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek reopened the environmental assessment process for 16 coal mines and two gas projects that had previously been approved. To take part, it was necessary to submit new information not available at the time of the original approvals.
I wrote the same comment for all of the coal projects*.
I wish to draw attention to the following information which was not available at the time this project was approved. This information implies that the climate damage caused by the project will be worse than seemed likely at the time, while any offsetting benefits will be smaller.
- International agreement on the necessity of phasing out, or phasing down, the use of coal by 2030 reached at COP26 in Glasgow. This agreement is inconsistent with an expansion in the global supply of coal. It follows that any new mine can operate only at the expense of existing mines, which will in any case be required to reduce their output. It is highly likely that the resulting job losses will be incurred in existing coal-reliant communities elsewhere in Australia
- The idea that coal-fired electricity generation could be rendered ‘clean’ through carbon capture and sequestration has now been abandoned. Most of the handful of projects that were put into operation have been closed down (Petra Nova) or scaled back (Boundary Dam). Other projects have been abandoned with large losses (Kemper). Hence any damage caused by additional use of coal cannot be prevented by CCS
- Rapid reductions in the cost of solar PV, wind and storage technology have rendered new coal fired power uneconomic everywhere, and have led to an accelerated closure of existing coal-fired power station. Although China continues construction of new coal-fired power stations, competition from clean energy means that many coal-fired plants will operate only seasonally, or as reserve capacity. This implies reduced demand for coal.
- At the time the project was evaluated, it seemed likely that coal would be replaced by gas, at least in the short term. This implied a smaller net benefit from eliminating coal than if the replacement is an immediate move to renewables+storage as now seems likely.
Professor of Economics, University of Queensland
- I meant to write something on gas, but ran out of time. Submissions closed yesterday.