THE NSW Department of Planning has greenlighted a new Hunter coal mine as a landmark report warns of dangerous global climate change impacts if coal consumption is not significantly reduced over the next decade.
The department’s assessment that the controversial Korean Government-backed Bylong project is “approvable” was made public only hours after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that carbon emissions had to be cut to zero by 2050 to avoid severe climate change impacts. The report was released at the IPCC’s 48th conference in Korea.
The world’s leading climate scientists for the first time warned that global warming had to be kept at 1.5 degrees because even 2 degrees significantly worsened drought, flood and extreme heat risks and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Steeply cutting emissions by 2030 requires “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in energy, land, transport and industrial systems, but this should significantly reduce the risk of global warming to dangerous 2 degree levels, the IPCC report said.
One of the report’s global authors, University of Queensland global change institute Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, said it was possible to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target but “we only have 10 years left to get this problem under control”.
The IPCC report found the costs of keeping to 1.5 degree global warming were far lower than the estimated costs of the impacts of 2 degree warming.
“I hope governments and the public read this important document and begin the deep and concerted action required to avoid the serious impacts of rapidly changing climate. We are at 1 minute to midnight on the clock showing the time left to act on climate change,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
But the NSW Minerals Council said it expected demand for Hunter coal to grow by more than 400 million tonnes by 2030 and the outlook is “very positive”, while Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen said “It’s possible” the IPCC report is wrong.
“There are positive signs that these good conditions (for Asian exports) will continue in coming decades,” the Minerals Council said.
Mr Johnsen rejected the IPCC’s recommendation of a much faster phase-out of coal, saying there was “strong demand for Hunter coal and that demand is expected to continue for many decades to come”.
The NSW Department of Planning has referred the KEPCO Bylong proposal for an underground and open cut coal mine to operate until at least 2040 to the Independent Planning Commission for a final decision.
The department’s assessment report includes support for open cut operations within the 23-year mine life after KEPCO said it “would not proceed with the project without an open cut stage”.
The department also accepted a KEPCO submission noting International Energy Agency forecasts for an increase in global coal demand to 2040. But the forecasts are consistent with global warming of three degrees or more.
“This is the development scenario the NSW Government is endorsing when it backs the economic projections of companies like KEPCO,” Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown said the IPCC report showed the Hunter should join climate change protesters against the coal industry.
“You either back the protesters or you back the coal industry. It’s outrageous that someone like Bill Ryan (a 96-year-old Kokoda veteran charged after protests in September) is facing jail rather than a coal company executive,” Mr Brown said.
Controversy about the massive Queensland Adani coal mine proposal protected the Hunter region and Newcastle from being the focus of national and global climate change protests, Mr Brown said.
US President Donald Trump’s strong support for the coal industry also protected Australia from stronger condemnation about the scrapping of a national carbon emissions policy, he said.
“We’ve become one of the worst performers in the world and that’s through dismantling the schemes we had in place to put a price on carbon emissions. We’ve got a whole government in league with Donald Trump on this.
He predicted increasing Hunter protests, particularly if the Adani coal mine proposal ends.
“When and if the Adani mine goes off the front ranks, the Hunter and Newcastle will be front and centre,” Mr Brown said.
“Adani has been a symbol of dirty fossil fuel but when it’s gone, Newcastle and the Hunter are going to come back as the focus of national and global attention.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesperson Jamie Hanson said coal consumption would have to be cut by at least two thirds by 2030 and fall to almost zero in electricity production by 2050 to meet the 1.5 degree target.
Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the IPCC report is “a damning reflection on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government’s failure to act on the climate threat. We should now be 10 years into an energy policy framework which both meets our international carbon commitments and reduces electricity prices”.
“But when the Coalition was in Opposition they voted against every reasonable proposition. They then destroyed the framework the former Labor Government legislated into law. Now, after five years in Government they’ve failed the economy and the community on all fronts,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
In an interview on Sydney radio Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would not be held to any of the conclusions of the IPCC report.
“We’re not held to any of them at all, and nor are we bound to go and tip money into that big climate fund,” he told 2GB.
“We’re not going to do that either. I’m not going to spend money on global climate conferences and all that sort of nonsense.”