Carbon reduction targets are not a policy, they are an ambition. Like weight reduction goals, they invite discipline and encourage success.
Countries around the world – wealthy and developing – are committing to Net Zero Emissions (NZE). So too has every Australian Premier. Most of the world’s major companies have done so, too, as have most of the major peak industry groups including those representing the fossil fuels and agriculture sectors.
If Australia does not join the rest of the world in committing to further efforts on carbon emission reductions, we’ll become an international pariah and it will hurt us economically. The important thing is to do our bit and to do it proportionately and smartly.
Policies like carbon taxes are a 20th Century solution to what is now a 21st Century challenge. Carbon constraints punish certain industries and are unnecessary. They also lack broad community support and to succeed, we need a community consensus.
In the Hunter, our coal-fired electricity generators will stop contributing to the National Electricity Market when they come to the end of their physical lives. Policies which force them to close earlier would be counterproductive and should be rejected. Indeed, we need more time to ready ourselves for new job opportunities and to keep the electricity grid stable.
Meanwhile we are attracting new forms of electricity generation to the Hunter: pumped hydro, P.V. solar, solar thermal, and gas peaking (power plants which can also be fuelled with hydrogen). Battery storage is also in the mix. We are also positioning ourselves to lead in the production of hydrogen
None of this has short, or medium term, consequences for our coal mining industry. Overwhelmingly, our coal goes to export markets. There is nothing in the Paris Agreement which requires us to curtail our coal exports and we should not. While ever the markets of Asia want our local product, we should sell it to them. Tens of thousands of local jobs rely on it. Both our thermal and metallurgical coal will be in demand for decades to come and denying those markets our coal will only cause them to buy less efficient coal elsewhere. That will increase, not decrease global emissions.
Sure, our customers won’t want to use unabated coal forever. That’s why the Hunter region’s political, business and community leaders spend so much time building further diversity in our local economy and shaping our training facilities, so they are providing the skills needed for the jobs of the future. In doing so we have the support of some magnificent local research institutions like the CSIRO Energy Centre, the Newcastle Institute for Energy Resources, and a range of University of Newcastle based research institutions dealing with industrial transformation, low emissions technologies, including carbon capture and utilisation, renewable energy, and competitive hydrogen production. Of course, the Hunter Medical Research Institute is another. These research institutions collaborate with local industry to put the Hunter at the front of the pack as we strive to make the most of a changing world.
Technology will help us reduce carbon emissions while also protecting existing jobs while generating new employment opportunities. We can easily achieve NZE in 30 years’ time if we play it smart.