By Joel Fitzgibbon
11 March 2020
High school graduates hoping to fulfil their dream of becoming a well-paid mining engineer will inevitably find themselves on the website of the University of NSW. There they’ll find a coloured photo of two large dump trucks driving past a large coal stockpile. The UNSW has a great mining school, arguably the best in Australia.
Notwithstanding, last week the UNSW Council resolved to move away from any investments it holds in fossil fuel related entities. Do you see the paradox? Or as some might see it, the hypocrisy?
One assumes the UNSW mining school will remain a strong source of revenue for the highly respected university. This should be the case because Australia’s mining industry, including the coal, oil and gas sectors, will remain an enormously important generator of wealth and jobs for many decades to come.
Arguably, the resources sector’s biggest threat is not climate change activism but rather, it’s struggle to secure the skilled workforce it needs. This latter challenge is growing as the mining sector becomes more sophisticated due to the embrace of productivity enhancing new technologies. So, all strength to UNSW’s arm, may it pump-out quality mining engineers for many decades to come.
On the other side of the equation, the UNSW is a world leader in renewable technologies. This is also a good thing. The great bulk of Australia’s coal, oil and gas is sold on export markets where it earns us the foreign exchange needed to buy our imported cars, iPhones, computers, flat screen televisions and white goods. Locally, the UNSW is helping us create new and additional jobs in the clean energy sector. Many young high school graduates will find a photo of the solar panels on the University’s website too.
Our engineers have never been more important, they are not just extracting product from beneath and driving innovation in clean energy, they are key players in the success we are having in progressing the hydrogen sector and making carbon capture and storage technologies a commercial reality. On the latter, both government and business are investing heavily to ensure the sustainability of the fossil fuels sector.
Around the world, Australia’s gas exports are displacing inefficient coal in the electricity generation sector, helping developing counties in particular, reduce their carbon emissions. Likewise, our more efficient thermal coal is displacing less efficient product in overseas markets. Emerging economies are using our metallurgical coal to manufacture the steel they need to build the wind turbines they require to clean up their economies.
Australia is moving confidently towards zero net emissions by 2050 and we’ll continue to help others reduce their emissions too. Institutions like the UNSW will be critical to our success, as long as they keep delivering those amazing mining engineers.