My Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser: Adani’s mine fails the public opinion test, let alone the pub test.

by ray goodlass

Last week Indian mining firm Adani announced that its board had decided to proceed with the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin

However it is still not known if Adani has actually obtained the finance to proceed with the A$16.5 billion project, or whether it has secured the necessary A$1.1 billion loan from the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to build the mine’s railway.

That hasn’t stopped the Queensland’s state Labor government boasting that the announcement is an economic win for Queensland, on the basis of job creation and for the signals it provides to potential investors in the region. But this amounts to little more than short-sighted politics.

The government appears to be steadfastly ignoring the realities of both the current energy landscape and the contemporary economics of coalmining.

For example, it seems as though Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and federal ALP leader Bill Shorten have fallen for the lie being peddled by US President Donald Trump that coal mining is a job intensive industry, or are simply busily promoting the same ‘alternative fact’ entirely of their own blinkered imagining.

In contrast it was pleasing to see Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham mounting a strenuous camapign against the mine, and Qld Greens Senator Larissa Waters pointing out the ‘bleeding obvious’, which that there are many more jobs on the Great Barrier Reef, if we can save it from the consequences of global warming and industrial/agricultural run-off.

The truth is that due to increasing mechanisation and automation, mining is no longer the job rich industry it used to be. Far from it in fact. True, there will be a spike in employment created by the mine’s start-up and the building of the railway liner to the port, but after that very few jobs.

Now let’s examine coal mining in the constraints of a global carbon budget, which clearly demonstrates that it is not economically viable, while renewable energy production is rapidly expanding as the world moves to more sustainable investments. The result is that coal projects could become stranded assets, with price tags that may already exceed what would have been the costs of a timely implementation of climate action.

The ‘ownership’ of coal is another issue to be factored into this equation. As Samantha Hepburn of Deakin University pointed out in The Conversation last week, we the people in fact own the coal, though it’s rather complicated, so please bear with me.

The state government owns the coal resource, but it is a special type of ownership. This is “public resource” ownership, meaning that all decisions made by the state government to exploit it must be in the interest of the public as a whole.

Issuing resource titles that allow Adani to proceed with a vast coal mine, in defiance of the social, economic and environmental impacts of such a project within a carbon-constrained economy, in fact represents a dereliction of the state’s duty to act in the public interest.

It also ignores the fact that in order to have just a 50% chance of keeping global warming within 2℃, a key aim of the Paris climate agreement, 90% of Australia’s current coal reserves must stay in the ground.

So, noting that the economics of the Adani coal mine simply do not make sense, it also fails dismally on the public interest side of things. Whether it goes ahead or falls over consideration must be given to whether the government should be held accountable for breaching public interest responsibilities in issuing the resource titles in the first place.

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