Turnbull, Oz business challenged to act, not just talk, on climate

Turnbull, Oz business challenged to act, not just talk, on climate

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Turnbull asked to do to Galilee Basin coal what Obama has done to Canadian tar sands. Meanwhile, ACF to take Carmichael approval to court, while business still has a long way to go to match their rhetoric on climate action.

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull came under pressure over the weekend to match the rhetoric and actions of Barack Obama, after the US president announced he would put environmental consideration over short-term business outcomes, and refused approval for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

For Obama, it was a relatively easy decision. The US was not likely to get much economic benefit from allowing oil from Canadian tar sands to be piped across the country to the export market.

There were only 35 permanent jobs at stake, it would have had zero impact on US fuel security, and new Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was unlikely to be anywhere near as upset by the rejection as his predecessor Stephen Harper would have been.

Demonstrators march with a replica of a pipeline during a protest to demand a stop to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline outside the White House on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Green groups want Turnbull to do the same to the equally controversial Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin, which, based on Adani’s own reports, will not deliver anywhere near the economic benefits pretended by the Abbott government, yet could have a significant environmental impact.

Turnbull’s problem is that, unlike Obama, he represents a party that has not only argued the “moral” case

for coal mining, but has also sought to overcome financing problems by proposing to use funds from a new $5 billion “infrastructure fund”, and has sought to remove the right of green groups to take court action against the project.

Turnbull is, supposedly, going to make a “significant” announcement on climate change on the first day of the Paris talks, but it seems this is going to be more about rainforest


protection than it is about preventing new thermal coal mines.

But on Monday, the Australian Conservation Foundation lodged papers with the Federal Court, applying to challenge the approval for the mine given by environment minister Greg Hunt.

ACF says it will argue the minister failed to consider whether the impact of climate pollution, resulting from burning the mine’s coal, would be inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations to protect the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

ACF president Geoff Cousins describes the action as “historic” and compared it to the Franklin River dam campaign, and said that allowing the mine would be “reckless and irresponsible”.

“ACF believes the Turnbull government’s re-approval of a coal mine that would produce more climate pollution than New Zealand does annually is reckless and irresponsible,” Cousins said in a statement.

“Taking legitimate legal action in the public interest is central to keeping governments accountable in a democracy.

“This action is historic; it’s the first case that has sought to test the Environment Minister’s World Heritage obligations as they relate to the climate change impacts on the Reef caused by pollution from burning a mine’s coal.”

Business under pressure to match rhetoric

The Turnbull government is not the only one to come under pressure to match their talk with actions. Turnbull and Hunt both argue that Australia is committed to limiting global warming to 2°C, but are yet to deliver policies to do so. Business is in the same boat.

In recent weeks there have been major headlines in mainstream media about the “engagement” of leading corporates in supporting policies that lead to the 2°C outcome.

But just how far are businesses prepared to travel, themselves?

One of the major initiatives touted in recent weeks is the “We Mean Business” initiative, sponsored by a range of environmental groups. We don’t want to downplay their efforts, but it underlines just how big the gap is between rhetoric and action.

Consider this table below: These are from the companies hailed as showing “leadership” on climate change in Australia.

we mean business updated


Yet, less than half of them committed to adopting a “science-based” greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. i.e. one that is in accordance with the global, and national target, to limit global warming to a maximum 2°C.

It should be noted that two of them, CBA and NAB, subsequently announced other initiative to act “in accordance” with the 2°C target. But environmentalists are holding a wait and see approach. NAB is promising to allocate $18 billion on climate and clean energy projects. Goldman Sachs, with a similar asset base, is promising to allocate $140 billion.

Only three out of the 12 Australian companies said they would source 100 per cent renewables for their own operations. This included renewable energy developer Infigen Energy, and Origin Energy, although the latter is only doing this for its own “corporate use” and not for its customers.

It seems, for the others, this is still too hard, even though international groups such as IKEA, Google and others such as Starbucks, WalMart and Nike have a 100 per cent renewable goal.

Only half the Australian companies supported a carbon price.

James Day, a director of CDP and the We Mean Business initiative, and organiser of last week’s Climate Business Summit, says it is, nonetheless, an important step. “When motivating change, there are many pathways to heaven,” he told RenewEconomy.

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  1. Rob G 5 years ago

    While Turnbull doesn’t speak in slogans, we do hear a lot about “everything still being on the table”, It’s apparently a very big table, but not quite big enough for some meaningful policies on climate change action. While he should be given some space to prove himself, this rhetoric that is now here is all talk and no action. The world needs to gang-up on Australia and let Turnbull know in no uncertain terms that being a lagger will have consequences to Australia’s global standing. I do suspect we will see some movement from Turnbull after Paris. And if we don’t then we’ll have a better understanding of what they won’t do to address CC.

    • Coley 5 years ago

      I think the “world” would “gang up” on Australia by avoiding it as a tourist destination, if they allow the GBR to be destroyed or seriously damaged by mining ( and farming practices)
      It all boils down to tourist revenues V mining revenues.

  2. john 5 years ago

    Ok this is the take out “This action is historic; it’s the first case that has sought to test the Environment Minister’s World Heritage obligations as they relate to the climate change impacts on the Reef caused by pollution from burning a mine’s coal.”
    So absorbing that statement what are the outcomes from the case?
    1 A win which means all increases in CO2 or other related emissions must be taken into account before approval of any development
    2 The case is lost leading to no relevance of any development with any increase in emissions of any kind.
    Obviously some where in between is the decision.
    I think the court has a very hard case to decide.
    By extension if a case 1 decision is positive then every new development has to meet a set of guidelines that means they have to offset any increased GHG effect of the development.
    If a case 2 result it is business as usual.

    • Ian 5 years ago

      Cases like the environmental disaster of the Carmichael Mine need not necessarily be won, but they can be dragged out long enough for other forces and factors to play a role, such as economics, to make the project unviable. Maybe wind development and solar power will save us from ourselves. The streets of New York were not cleaned by legislation at the end of the horse and carriage age but by cars and electricity. I don’ t think humanity has the power to voluntarily give up creature comforts afforded by fossil fuels without something better taking its place. Hence the need to pump the renewables technologies to the nth degree. Damn right, a case like this could set a precedent to block all new development that threatens to produce more CO2, is that such a bad thing? Technology is available to completely do away with fossil fuel use without much sacrifice to our “way of life ” This site manages quite well to highlight and promote renewables, with a bit of political banter thrown in. Over the months new developments and challenges have made renewables as cutting edge as space flight.

  3. Steve M 5 years ago

    I live 150kms from this mine and the local economy is pretty poor, many locals are hopeful that this will be the short term boost to jobs and a kick start to growth. I have a different view with the economic argument leaving my environmental prejudice aside.
    Coal is a heavily government subsidised commodity and has been for many years, the current price of coal means that many mines are downsizing and laying off staff. To let a foreign owned company come and build their own mine in Australia and export the product to their own business will create a few construction jobs in the short term but put 2-3 other mines out of business creating greater job losses in the long term. (also causing environmental chaos)
    400kms from the Carmichael site is the largest Vanadium deposit in the world, this material is the future for making any electricity grid more efficient and has the potential to be 10X bigger than our current coal market with no only mining but also secondary manufacturing ( flow batteries where invented in Australia in 1983) and we could sell the world a high value product, the mine would be away from the sea and run off to the great barrier reef and it would save the governments of QLD, WA and NT over $1.2B per year in subsidising providing electricity to remote areas.

  4. Humanitarian Solar 5 years ago

    This website is hardly in a position to challenge Turbull to act not talk, when it’s a solar/renewables spectator sport for theorising about technology pipelines. It tends to consult with the type of engineer who has a marketing background or theoretical orientation, rather than a practical orientation. This website is a talk fest. The engineer without a prototype is a dud. The journalist who is future focused is lost in theory and extrapolation. Second guessing the future is simply talk and boring. Gives us prototypes of affordable systems being implemented now.

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