As the recovery from COVID-19 begins, investing in gas will entrench the same problems as coal, including high energy costs, climate damage and pollution, violations of land rights, and a concentration of wealth, a new briefing from Oxfam Australia shows.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the briefing paper, “Australia’s energy future & the recovery from COVID-19”, showed gas was a very unstable foundation on which to rebuild an economy and build a better future.
“This year, we have seen that no-one is immune to the climate crisis, including here in Australia,” Ms Morgain said. “But it is people living in poverty who are paying the greatest cost, despite having contributed the least to global climate pollution.
“Relying on a gas-fired recovery from COVID-19 risks failing not only to meet immediate needs but also imposing a crippling burden on future generations – in the form of climate damage, stranded assets, fewer jobs and big debts.
“Australia has been a regressive force on global climate action – doubling down on fossil fuels at home and for export, and holding back international negotiations. But in the face of the twin challenges of economic recovery and the climate crisis, there is a now a once in a generation opportunity to stabilise and strengthen the Australian economy while also tackling climate change.
“The COVID-19 crisis has shown we’re capable of listening to the science, working together, and taking bold action across all levels of government, business and the community. We must now apply that same resolve and foresight to the even greater challenges that lie ahead, and tackle the climate crisis.”
Ms Morgain said it was claimed that gas was less emissions intensive than coal, but the mining, processing and transportation of gas released large quantities of methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas with many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
“The proposed expansion of Australia’s gas industry is of grave concern to many,” Ms Morgain said. “When it comes to our immediate region – the Pacific – this stubborn resistance to cutting emissions has become more than cause for embarrassment, and may increasingly affect Australia materially and strategically.
“Staunch global allies, including the United Kingdom, have been left bewildered by our reluctance to turn away from coal and gas, even after seeing vast tracts of our country engulfed in flames. However, Australia is uniquely placed to help drive the global transition to a clean energy future and to reap the economic benefits. This clean energy future also offers a far better prospect for communities, in our region and beyond, to overcome poverty and inequality.
Amelia Telford, Bundjalung woman and National Director of the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network said the proposed expansion of Australia’s gas industry would disproportionately impact Aboriginal communities, particularly in the Northern Territory, where gas companies were itching to start fracking.
“Many Aboriginal communities are concerned about the long-term damage that fracking could cause to water, to country, to songlines, and the long-term effects of climate change. These communities are already feeling the impacts of a warming climate, fracking would only make this worse and could force many people to move off country,” Ms Telford said.
“Time and time again, governments and mining companies have ignored concerns from Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities who are worried about fracking and the impacts of exploration licences that have been granted without proper free, prior and informed consent.”
Ms Morgain said these communities feared they would have to deal with the long-term impacts of onshore gas development, while the benefits would be short-term and flow mostly to people outside the community.
“We are a developed country with very high emissions per person, and a hefty historical responsibility for climate pollution, but, on the positive side, almost unparalleled resources in solar and wind energy,” Ms Morgain said.
“Solar and wind provide the most cost-effective form of new energy generation in most markets across the world, even before pricing in the many negative impacts associated with fossil fuels; and, the potential for job creation in renewables is far greater than in the fossil fuel industry.
Oxfam is urging the Government to invest in economic stimulus measures that accelerate the transformation of our energy system to being powered by renewable energy.
“Oxfam is also calling for the Government to commit to a national goal of zero emissions well before mid-century, no further expansion of Australia’s coal and gas industries, and to the phase-out of fossil fuels in both our domestic energy system and exports by 2030,” Ms Morgain said.
“Finally, the organisation is calling on the Government to prioritise Indigenous-led climate solutions and the right of Australia’s First Peoples to protect Country, as well as prioritising opportunities for new jobs and industries in regional areas through climate action.”
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