Opinion | Why the scrapping of the T4 coal loader is good news for the Hunter

OTHER OPTIONS: PWCS chief executive officer Hennie Du Ploy on Kooragang Island last week after announcing that plans for a T4 coal loader would be scrapped.
OTHER OPTIONS: PWCS chief executive officer Hennie Du Ploy on Kooragang Island last week after announcing that plans for a T4 coal loader would be scrapped.

Last week’s announcement that the T4 coal loader would not proceed is a great outcome for the people in Newcastle and the Hunter, led by a six-year community campaign by the Coal Terminal Action Group, a coalition of 20 community and environment groups including the Hunter Community Environment Centre, and many local heroes, who have been fighting for the region’s future beyond coal.  

Port Waratah Coal Services CEO Hennie du Plooy said economics drove the decision. He is not wrong.  Economics and the global demand for clean energy are driving rapid change. The future is not coal-powered. The sooner we look at the Hunter’s future without coal, the more likely the best options and fairest way forward will be found.

In 2018, global warming is real, it is happening and the world must unite to minimise its impact. We knew that in 2009 when T4 was first proposed. The flawed concept that coal could still fuel us for decades to come has been a destructive, divisive campaign by the coal sector that is likely to leave many Hunter people high and dry.

After more than two centuries of coal mining, coal exports and coal-fired power generation the Hunter needs leadership and vision, now. The Hunter needs frank discussions and support from all of Australia for a strategy to help make this transition. There are thousands of Hunter workers and communities that rely on coal jobs. Every Australian has profited from their success. But things are changing and any major shift needs all of us to pitch in.

The death of Newcastle’s T4 coal loader is symptomatic of a major global shift. Oil company Chevron has admitted in court that human-induced climate change is real and that the climate science is clear. New York and San Francisco are suing oil giants for climate damages. Insurers are stating publicly their aversion to fossil fuels and climate risks. More than $US6 trillion has been divested from fossil fuel projects around the world.

The bullish predictions that led to the T4 concept show the problem with myopic analysis. Today the only voice suggesting we should build major new coal infrastructure in Australia is the federal government, still in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists.

The coal industry is desperate for a Tony Abbott-led revival where billions of taxpayer dollars prop up coal-fired power stations and new coal mines, because the bankers and investors who live in the real world cannot justify that to their shareholders.

Big miners like BHP and Rio Tinto have effectively departed the thermal coal industry, and no-one knows that better than the people of the Hunter.

Last December, when Professor Roy Green became chairman of the Port of Newcastle, he told the Herald, “While the world’s demand for our coal is beyond our control, our ability to invest in new sources of growth and innovation is not”. Obviously the port is not going to stop exporting coal in the immediate future, but it is the responsibility of the port and the Hunter’s public and private institutions to look beyond coal.  

It is 2018 not 1820. Governments, industry and the community need to put differences aside and work together to ensure we can securely transition away from coal to a prosperous, sustainable future. It might be a difficult transition but, with a bit of innovative thinking and inspiration, it’s truly an exciting time to be planning for life after coal.

Glen Klatovsky is deputy CEO of 350.org Australia.