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The Introduction of a Moratorium on Coal Mining and Increasing the Investment in Renewable Energy in Australia

Info: 3095 words (12 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tags: EnergySustainability

The Introduction of a Moratorium on Coal Mining and Increasing the Investment in Renewable Energy in Australia

 

Summary

Australia is the largest producer of coal in the world and also a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Coal has played a significant role in Australia and its economy however the social and environmental impacts are devastating. Australia has vast resources at its disposal, but is now faced with increasing pressure to distance itself from a heavy reliance on coal mining. Australia must further explore renewable energy as method to decrease its carbon footprint whilst providing a clean and reliable energy source for future generations.

Climate change is the single biggest threat to man kind in the present day with impacts on the environment as well as extreme weather events. As low income countries are increasing productivity and urbanisation, the demand for coal is increasing across the globe.

By supporting the establishment of new and the further expansion of coal mines is incompatible with the global objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recommendation for a moratorium on all new coal mines, with the exception of current coal mines to mine until their expiration date allows energy that is not clean to be phased out over a period. Coal represents the most heavily subsidised industry in Australia and the money could be better spent investing in an clean energy Australia.

What is Coal Mining?

Coal mining has played a very important role in Australian history which is still present today. Coal was first discovered in Australian in 1797 in what would be Australia’s largest coalfield located in the vicinity of Newcastle, New South Wales (ABS, 2012). Coal is used to generate electricity from the combustion of the fossil fuel, which then fuel generators transmitting electricity at high voltage through networks to be provided to consumers (Byrnes, Brown, Foster, & Wagner, 2013).

Energy production in particular the burning of coal is the single biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions accounting for 68% globally (IEA, 2017). Coal-fired power plants have provided a reliable and low-cost energy supply to Australians for years, but it is now evident they are very heavy polluters. Coal mining poses a number of risks to the environment in particular water sources as they can become contaminated from various chemical compounds potentially exposing human food sources (Castleden, Shearman, Crisp, & Finch, 2011).

Prior to the industrial revolution global greenhouse gas emissions were 280 parts per million compared to current day levels of 403 parts per million(IEA, 2017) combined with steady increases in methane and nitrous oxide levels in the atmosphere (IEA, 2017). Sadly, it appears that there is a political and economic rationale which keeps the growing demand for coal inevitable.

Coal has been known to be the instigator of modern capitalist culture (Baer, 2016) and whilst coal has had many purposes in the past with the powering of railways, steel manufacturing and the generation of electricity (Baer, 2016), it is now evident that the continuation of coal mining is counterproductive to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The rapid increase in global energy demands comes from increased globalisation, productivity and development (IEA, 2017). Since 1990, coal mining in Australia has increased by 140% despite the introduction of international climate change law with the current climate change policy failing to limit exploration and mining of coal in Australia (Pearse, 2016). Australia is the largest coal producer in the world with 41% of worlds energy production is from Australian coal (Mohr, Höök, Mudd, & Evans, 2011).

Coal mining places great stress on farmers not only by the threat to their land, but also the water supply. With Adani mine in Queensland granted an unlimited water license posing great threat to cattle producers in the area as they face the prospect they will have limited or contaminated water for their farming enterprises (Hamm, 2017)

During 2001-2005 it was found that coal miners had the highest suicide rate (81 per 100,00 worker years) (Roberts, Jaremin, & Lloyd, 2013) which can be credited to loss of traditional employment patterns like “fly in, fly out” work placing great stress on families often leading to family breakdowns (Roberts et al., 2013).

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy can be defined as energy produced using natural resources that are continuously replaced and never run out(ARENA, 2017). Australia boasts some of the best natural resources in the world, in particular the highest average solar radiation of any continent in the world (Byrnes et al., 2013). Despite the ongoing climate change denialism, there has been a gradual shift to renewable energy seen even in households with the adoption of solar powered panels (Byrnes et al., 2013). Wind and solar are the lower cost alternatives in relation to low emission electricity generation, non-renewable energy such as fossil fuels like coal and coal seam gas have low private costs, but the social costs are devastating (Byrnes et al., 2013). There alternative energy options explored include solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean and bio energy(ARENA, 2017). Hydro and bioenergy power is not sustainable due to the water and biomass availability (Blakers, Lu, & Stocks, 2017)

Wind and solar energy is renewable, clean and reliable source of energy, and once infrastructure is in place there are zero production costs as it is free from the environment.

whilst wind and solar power have next to no cost and should be used in preference (Blakers et al., 2017)

The coal mines that are currently operating require expensive maintenance and the high cost of on going sundries (Blakers et al., 2017). Wind and solar power should be used in preference, as the sun and wind are free ((Byrnes et al., 2013)

Solar radiation from the sun in particular in northern and central Australia(Yusaf, Goh, & Borserio, 2011) would not only provide a sustainable energy supply but also provide a much needed boost to remote areas.

The electricity supply model is facing major challenges due to advances in technology, infrastructure and environmental challenges including climate change (Byrnes et al., 2013) and needs a structured plan to address all issues in the model.

State governments rule the local and regional areas including mining, roads, infrastructure and agriculture (Baer, 2016), in particular mining leases and exploration permits. Coal is lucrative for state governments as the funds raised from exploration and mining permits are

Coal mining has sustained economic growth for much of Australia’s history (Nelson, Nelson, Ariyaratnam, & Camroux, 2013) however the climate change impacts on Australia are rising to include extreme heat, longer summers and higher risks of fires (Crowley & Jayawardena, 2017). The oceans surrounding Australia and the atmosphere are increasing in temperature (Crowley & Jayawardena, 2017)

As the concerns surrounding coal mining grows, medical practitioners are now weighing in on the health and environmental concerns in particular coal dust and negative impacts coal places on employees and the surrounding communities. The risk of premature death for people living in 30 miles of coal burning power plants is 3 to 4 times that of someone living further away (Castleden et al., 2011). Coal mines are renound for their dusk with particle exposure known to aggravate asthma, decrease lung function and increase likelihood of heart attack (Castleden et al., 2011)

The increased traffic on road transporting coal to port increase the likelihood of road accidents but also further emit greenhouse gas (Castleden et al., 2011). significant associations between coal mining and children respiratory distress (Hendryx, 2015)

The notion has Australia depends on coal and other minerals to survive is false, and sadly other countries seem to benefit more from our coal, due to the foreign ownership of our coal mines. (REFERENCE). There is a difference in priorities among government’s that lead to poor decisions on climate change policy. State governments are responsible for regulation and governance for on-shore and up to 3 nautical miles from territorial seas, with federal government responsible outside those zones (Byrnes et al., 2013) .

Recommendations

As it stands today, coal fired power stations are responsible for the two thirds of Australia’s electricity (Blakers et al., 2017). Whilst Australia has a large dependence on coal, it will take significant time and effort to reduce its ….on coal for electricity. By 2030, over three quarters of coal powered stations will be over 40 years old and shortly requiring updating or replacement (Blakers et al., 2017). Since electricity generation is the largest contributor to global emissions in Australia representing 38% (Byrnes et al., 2013), it is essential to start planning for future generations.

Australia has an abundant supply of fossil fuels and other resources giving an edge to supply cost effective energy, however a high reliance on coal has created a double edged sword. Whilst the Australian government has been effective in the creation of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) however has failed to commit to ending coal mining in Australia. The Australian Government in response to climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% in 2020 and 80 % by 2050 (Byrnes et al., 2013), however this is not possible without a stronger stance on the mining of fossil fuels.

The proposal of a moratorium on all new coal mines and increased funding directed toward renewable energy is an effective way to manage energy consumption without damaging the environment (Hua, Oliphant, & JingHu, 2016).

The notion that Australia is reliant on coal export for current and future wealth is not correct, the coal mining industry is heavily subsidized by state and federal governments which could be better spent investing in the future of renewable energy.  In 2008-2009, Australia exported over 252 million tonnes making Australia the largest coal supplier in the world (Mohr et al., 2011), and by opening further coal mines demonstrates incompatibility with the global goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian government should allow existing mines to continue without further expansion until their reserves are extracted or no longer profitable enabling a transition period from fossil fuel based energy to renewable energy. The emphasis on placing a cap on the expanding coal exports from Australia is responsible as

As it stands foreign ownership of coal mines combined with the vast exportation of coal keeps Australia benefiting greatly, instead Australia merely contributes further to the demise of the environment (Crowley & Jayawardena, 2017).

Reallocation of funds from mining permits, taxation and subsidses toward creation of jobs

In the absence of national action, the renewable energy future will never be grasped or adopted by Australians

Renewable Energy Target has been in place since 2001(Clean Energy Australia, 2015), with 30-50 new projects to begin in the next 5 years (Clean Energy Australia, 2015). As most of the new projects will be based in either coastal or remote areas, it will be giving a much needed boost to areas needing it.

The current lack of investment in renewable energy has been seen as underwhelming  (Nelson et al., 2013)

The intrusion of mining projects on farms and prime agricultural areas,

A world dependant on dwindling fossil fuel supplies is running out of time to find a sustainable future that doesn’t jeopardize its health

The Cost of Coal Mining

State and federal governments spend vast amounts of money on subsidies and grants for the fossil fuel industry (Peel, Campbell, & Denniss, 2014). State governments alone spent $18 million on subsidies (Peel et al., 2014) in combination with the $4.5 billion the federal government spent in 2014 on the coal industries (Peel et al., 2014). It is paramount that energy policymakers consider the impacts of policy uncertainty on attractiveness when considering Australia (Nelson et al., 2013)

The estimated health costs of burning coal are $2.6 billion per annum(Castleden et al., 2011) which would be better invested into renewable energy infrastructure

Energy prices have jumped 72% in the 10 years prior to 2013 (Crowley & Jayawardena, 2017)

The escalating price of power in Australia has families struggling each month

downward pressure on rising energy costs whilst reducing climate change impacts

The discussions surrounding renewable energy in Australia are important as they express concerns about climate change and the industries that cause them.

Conclusion

Whilst in Australia politicos promote coal as the cheapest source of energy, however if the negative external costs were included it would be the most expensive and deadly energy in the world. There is overwhelming evidence that the mining and combustion of coal is not only harmful to the environment and health but also has a negative impact on communities involved. Australia is a rich and technologically sophisticated country that should be leading by example. The capacity to phase out coal mining and focus on renewable energy is up to Australia. A shift away from carbon producing industries and focus on the future of Australia

References

ABS. (2012). History of Coal Mining. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/6893596390A01028CA2569E3001F5555?OpenDocument

ARENA. (2017). What is Renewable Energy? Retrieved from https://arena.gov.au/about/what-is-renewable-energy/

Baer, H. (2016). The Nexus of the Coal Industry and State in Australia: Historical Dimensions and Contemporary Challenges. Energy Policy, 99, 194-202. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2016.05.033

Blakers, A., Lu, B., & Stocks, M. (2017). 100% renewable electricity in Australia. Energy, 133, 471-482. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2017.05.168

Byrnes, L., Brown, C., Foster, J., & Wagner, L. (2013). Australian renewable energy policy: Barriers and challenges. Renewable Energy, 60, 711-721. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2013.06.024

Castleden, W., Shearman, D., Crisp, G., & Finch, P. (2011). The mining and burning of coal: effects on health and the environment. Medical Journal of Australia, 195(6), 333-335. doi:10.5694/mja11.10169

Clean Energy Australia. (2015). A bipartisan renewable energy target: the huge opportunities for Australia. Retrieved from https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/policy-advocacy/renewable-energy-target.html:

Crowley, K., & Jayawardena, O. (2017). Energy Disadvantage in Australia:policy obstacles and opportunities. Energy Procedia, 121, 284-291. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2017.08.029

Hamm, P. (2017). ‘Barbaric’: Farmers rattled as Adani coal mine granted unlimited water access. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/environment/barbaric-farmers-rattled-as-adani-coal-mine-granted-unlimited-water-access-20170404-gvdk5v.html

Hendryx, M. (2015). The Public Health Impacts of Surface Coal Mining. The Extractive Industries and Society, 2, 820-826. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2015.08.006

Hua, Y., Oliphant, M., & JingHu, E. (2016). Development of renewable energy in Australia and China: A comparison of policies and status. Renewable Energy, 86, 1044-1051. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2015.07.060

IEA. (2017). CO2 Emissions From Fuel Combustion 2017. International Energy Agency.

Mohr, S., Höök, M., Mudd, G., & Evans, G. (2011). Projection of long-term paths for Australian coal production—Comparisons of four models. International Journal of Coal Geology, 86(4), 329-341. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.coal.2011.03.006

Nelson, T., Nelson, J., Ariyaratnam, J., & Camroux, S. (2013). An analysis of Australia’s large scale renewable energy target: Restoring market confidence. Energy Policy, 62, 386-400. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.07.096

Pearse, R. (2016). The coal question that emissions trading has not answered. Energy Policy, 99, 319-328. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2016.05.053

Peel, M., Campbell, R., & Denniss, R. (2014). Mining The Age of Entitlement: State Government Assistance to the Minerals and Fossil Fuel Sector. The Australian Institute, Technical Brief 31.

Roberts, S., Jaremin, B., & Lloyd, K. (2013). High-risk occupations for suicide. Psychology Medicine, 43(6), 1231-1240. doi:10.1017/S0033291712002024

Yusaf, T., Goh, S., & Borserio, J. (2011). Potential of renewable energy alternatives in Australia. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 15(5), 2214-2221. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2011.01.018

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