Our reliance on coal is entrenching poverty around the world

Opinion article written on the 03 Dec 2018

In the midst of raging bushfires in Queensland, and in the wake of dire warnings from the world’s climate scientists on the perils of new coal, Adani has announced it will proceed with opening up the last major untapped coal resource in Australia by self-financing its Carmichael coalmine.

From worsening fire seasons to the heartbreaking damage to our Great Barrier Reef, Australians are already feeling the devastating impacts of climate change, with scientists warning that far worse is to come if we do not act fast to move beyond coal and reach zero emissions as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, many communities face the loss of their land, homes and livelihoods to sea level rise, more destructive storms, and other escalating impacts of climate change.

While climate change affects us all, poor populations in developing countries are hit hardest — the same communities who have contributed the least to global carbon pollution and have fewer resources with which to adapt.

As an organisation tackling poverty around the world, Oxfam has been aware of this for many years and has incorporated the impact of climate change in our programming work.  We know from experience that more extreme weather equals greater hunger and disease. 

Make no mistake – the decisions we make today will profoundly impact the lives of communities here and abroad far into the future. Put simply, there is no space for new coal.

Australians have shown they are ready to harshly punish political leaders who allow this insanity to continue. And that they will reward those who show leadership on climate change and a determination to address this greatest challenge of our time. Both major parties have the power to stop Adani by denying the company the final approvals it now seeks.

Allowing the Adani mine to proceed would be a historic act of recklessness that would not be forgotten. It would be against the wishes of the Australian public, an overwhelming majority of whom are concerned about climate change, and half of whom want a moratorium on new coal mines.

Pressure has been mounting from our neighbours, who are all too aware of the worsening toll of coal and climate change, and expect leadership from Australia.

Last week, Vanuatu fired a shot across the bow by announcing it is exploring ways to take legal action against fossil fuel companies and governments for the damage wrought by climate change. We can be almost certain that those who continue to wreak havoc with our climate will face a wave of litigation in years to come.

Coal has no future. It is unable to meet the energy needs of the hundreds of millions of people who continue to live without electricity.

It’s renewable energy that offers the key not only to achieving universal energy access, but also to raising incomes and employment, reducing inequality, and powering inclusive social and economic development.

Coal is unable to compete on cost with today’s renewable energy technologies. It pollutes our air, causing millions of premature deaths. But above all, it is the biggest contributor to climate change, which is already entrenching poverty worldwide.

Meanwhile, renewables offer the promise of new prosperity and affordable energy for all.

Opening up new coal reserves makes no economic sense in today’s world, just as it is utterly incompatible with creating a just and sustainable future.

While no bank has been willing to touch it, and Adani has faced extraordinary opposition to its proposal from here and abroad, it seems determined nonetheless to push ahead.

It is way past time for our elected leaders to step up and put a stop to this madness.

Dr Simon Bradshaw, Oxfam Australia’s Climate Change Policy Advisor

This opinion editorial was first published on 10 daily on 2 December, 2018.