IN a new report, Weathering the Storm: The case for transformation in the Hunter Valley, researchers commissioned by environmental lobby group Lock The Gate paint a dire future for the coalmining regions of Muswellbrook and Singleton unless government assistance is provided to counter a projected decline of the coal industry.
The study, prepared by academics from the University of Western Sydney, models the impact on the regional economy if the Hunter’s output of coal was to fall by 55 per cent between now and 2040.
Not unexpectedly, the study finds that such a decline in the coal industry, by itself, would result in the loss of more than 5000 jobs worth more than $700 million a year at current wage rates.
But were coal companies to be levied to pay for worker retraining, and if governments subsidised renewable energy manufacturing industries and other job-creating opportunities, the authors say that all of those lost mining jobs, plus 600 more, could be created in replacement industries, resulting in an overall wage increase of some $35 million a year by 2040.
There are clear limitations on such a study, as the authors acknowledge.
But it is common sense to note that dedicated retraining schemes and targeted subsidies are likely to create better restructuring outcomes than if a region and its workforce are left to fend for themselves during times of drastic change. Perhaps the most important question, though, is whether the 55 per cent reduction in Hunter coal production will occur as the authors and their sponsors Lock The Gate contend.
The figure comes from the energy agency’s “sustainable development scenario”, which is modelled on meeting the Paris Agreement. This scenario does predict such a reduction in coal demand at the same time as world energy use doubles.
But as the agency notes, the world may not meet the Paris target, and its less demanding, and possibly more realistic, “new policies scenario” sees coal use for electricity as remaining more or less level for the next 20-odd years.
Either way, a mining region such as the Hunter cannot ignore the growing global pressure on coal. Especially if the noticeably more volatile weather of recent years continues to worsen, turning long-held predictions about climate change into reality.