The Morrison-McCormack government is planning a massive expansion of the gas industry as a way to recover from COVID-19. However, a gas-led recovery is not the way to go. It's the way to lock Australia into a climate-destroying, fossil-fueled disaster.
A recovery should, if the science is respected as it is with COVID, transition Australia to 100 per cent clean energy, create thousands of clean jobs, boost the economy, and bring Australia's emissions down. A recovery that would make Australia a renewable energy superpower.
Despite the scientific, economic and health evidence that we must decarbonise rapidly, the government is planning a vast increase in fossil fuels. They have no plan to transition away from coal, and no plan to close down coal-fired power stations, although they will anyway because they are getting old.
There are a staggering 22 new gas projects, starting with three vast areas - the Beetaloo Basin in the Territory, and the North Bowen and Galilee Basins in Queensland. In NSW, there are plans for enormous volumes of gas to be extracted just off the coastline between Newcastle and Sydney.
The government has so far committed over $80 million of taxpayers' money, their money as they see it if we are to judge by the sportsrorts affair, the Community Safety Fund, and grants of millions of dollars to media company News Corp, to their gas-led recovery.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), are the energy experts, like the doctors we rely on to beat COVID. AEMO advises there is no need for more gas and even if these projects go ahead, there will only be a market for the extra gas if it's cheaper than battery storage, which is not likely.
The gas-led recovery exposes this government's deep commitment to the fossil fuel industry, no matter what. No matter the catastrophic climate change impact on you and me and millions of others. These projects will emit three times annual global emissions and consume 28 per cent of the total global carbon budget remaining to meet the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Fugitive emissions escaping from coal, oil and gas production already account for over 10 per cent of Australia's emissions, and that's under-reported because reporting of fugitive emissions lags behind best practice, predictably.
We are being lied to when told that gas is cleaner than coal. This is not true when fugitive pollution is included. Over 100 years, the impact of methane in gas is 25 times that of carbon dioxide and over 20 years, 105 times worse. Increasing gas production will increase Australia's emissions and those of our trading partners like India, China, Korea and Japan, not decrease them.
Over the past decade, when the government should have been acting, instead we have become one of the world's biggest gas producers. Australia's gas and coal exports make us the third largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world, after Russia and Saudi Arabia. We are a world leader in exporting climate change. With only 0.3 per cent of the world's population, we are responsible for 4.5 per cent of global greenhouse gases when exports are included.
Fracking for gas uses massive amounts of water, a resource that will become more precious as Australia becomes hotter and drier. Groundwater is the basis of life and economic survival in the outback. There is no way companies can drill, frack and seal gas wells that totally eliminates the risk of contamination.
Fewer than 1 per cent of Australian jobs are in gas-intensive industries. The Santos Narrabri project, with over 800 CSG wells, will only produce 30 new jobs according to a report by Allen consultants. The government predicts that by 2040, manufacturing using hydrogen from clean renewables will be competitive. That's less than 20 years before these gas projects become stranded assets. And because we won't have globally competitive prices, there's little incentive for private sector investment in our gas.
Other companies see sense. Whyalla steelworks is moving to emissions-free steel from renewable energy, saving 1200 jobs. Fortescue Metals plans to produce renewable energy on the scale of the largest oil companies and to produce green hydrogen and green steel. They will use renewable energy to power their trucks, trains and ships. Stunning!
BHP plans to sell all its thermal coal mines within two years. AGL has lodged an application to close Liddell coal power station next year. Both companies link executive pay to meeting emissions targets. Here's an idea - link politicians' pay to meeting emissions targets, and increase the targets!
Here's an idea - link politicians' pay to meeting emissions targets, and increase the targets!
ANZ bank is also out of coal, much to the annoyance of many in government. Barnaby Joyce complains that you can't speak the word 'coal' these days, it's a taboo word. Other Nationals call for a coal-fired power-station, or a nuclear plant to be built using government money. The big question is where? Could it be here on the Mid North Coast? Cowper voters need to be alert to the risk it might be if this government stays in power much longer.
A pandemic should not be an invitation for pandemonium. It's a wake-up call and when it ends, there should be no return to business-as-usual. This is the most important ten years in the entire history of humanity. And not only for humans, but also for the countless plants and animals that also live on this planet.
This is our future, the transition is happening whether we like it or not, let's embrace it and get on with it, we don't need gas. The greatest climate impact Australia can make is to put a moratorium on all new coal mines and gas fields. This is the time to show leadership. Scrap this dangerous gas-led recovery plan.
Harry Creamer is a founding member of Climate Change Hastings, a safe climate and clean energy group on the Mid North Coast (www.climatechangehastings.org.au/)