We must freeze new coal, gas and oil


Either the two major parties agree on achieving net zero by 2050 or they believe in advancing new coal, gas and oil projects. Maths and physics don't let you believe in both. So which is it – net zero or new coal and gas?

By Adam Bandt

I am going to make this as simple as I possibly can.

The Liberal-National government and Labor opposition's climate target is for net zero emissions by 2050. I think that's too late. The science says that's too late. But that's their target. The Liberal and Labor target is for net zero emissions by 2050.

The scientists that we pay to advise us on this – as well as the undisputed authority, according to government, on global energy systems, the International Energy Agency – said last year that to reach net zero by 2050, not one single new coal, oil or gas project can be built. Not one.

Yet, on the government's official register, there are 114 new coal and gas projects in the pipeline, containing more than double the amount of Australia's current emissions. That's 2½ times Australia's emissions every year locked up in these projects that the Liberals and Labor want to develop.

So either the government and opposition agree on achieving net zero by 2050 or they believe in advancing these 114 projects, even one of which, of the bigger ones, could blow our climate target.

Maths and physics don't let you believe in both. So which is it—net zero or new coal and gas?

Physics and biochemistry say either we can have farming or we can have coal and gas, but we can't have both. So which is it?

The mining and burning of coal and gas are the leading causes of the climate crisis. So, if you don't have a plan for coal and gas, and you want to open up more coal and gas mines, you don't have a plan to keep Australia safe from a climate breakdown.

The executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said last year:

If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now—from this year.

He continued:

More and more countries are coming up with net zero commitments, which is very good, but I see a huge and growing gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

He is right.

In Australia, with our 114 new projects backed by Labor and the Liberals, this gap between rhetoric and reality is as long as the Great Dividing Range.

The International Energy Agency's research on why we cannot afford any new coal, oil or gas projects being opened up makes intuitive sense. It's what our scientists are telling us, too. It's what the United Nations is telling us, too. You have to stop pouring petrol on the fire before you can start putting it out.

Keeping coal and gas in the ground is the very first thing a government would do if they were serious about treating global heating like the climate emergency that it is.

That is why this bill is being introduced today—to put a pause on the approval of new coal and gas projects. Existing projects in operation will be untouched by this legislation. We can deal with them later.

Although the Greens policy remains for the rapid phase-out of coal and gas on the path to net zero by 2035, this temporary freeze on advancing these 114 projects through the pipeline should be a circuit-breaker that everyone can agree on.

We need this pause to help develop the policies that the Australian government can take to the next UN climate conference.

The Greens will be working every day from now until May to kick this rotten government out, but we need to make sure that, in the next parliament, we don't keep opening up new coal and gas projects. One project at Beetaloo, a basin that both Labor and the Liberals want to open up, will increase Australia's pollution by up to 13 per cent just on its own.

With the bipartisan commitment that is in place for opening up these new coal and gas projects, it is only through third parties in this place, like the Greens, having power that we are going to see the action the science requires, which means a moratorium on opening up new coal, oil and gas projects.

Then Australia can join in the push that other countries are leading. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union are all leading a global push to stop additional pollution from coal and gas and tackle the climate crisis.

Over 100 countries representing 70 per cent of the global economy have signed up to the methane pledge that US President Joe Biden was pushing at the climate summit to knock 0.2 degrees off a potential future temperature rise from this one pledge alone.

But Australia didn't sign up to that pledge at the climate summit and the opposition said they wouldn't sign up to it either because of the power of the big gas corporations which are trying to fudge the fact that gas is as dirty as coal when you take into account the potent damage of methane.

The UN Chief, Antonio Guterres, also pushed the no new coal pledge where countries from the developed and developing world have signed up to no new coal projects. As the campaign made clear: 'Moving away from coal is not a death knell for industrialization, but rather a much better opportunity for green jobs.'

This bill will enable a moratorium on new coal, gas and oil projects. It's a pretty reasonable proposition. It's not even about existing coal and gas projects. We're just saying don't open up new ones.

This has the support of people in the country right across the political spectrum. People do not want us opening up new coal, oil and gas projects. We can have discussions in this place about what to do about existing ones, how to get out of it and support coal communities and workers through the transition, but everyone should be able to agree not to open up new ones.

We are in a climate crisis. We've been told that we've got a few years to tackle this otherwise the window closes. And if that window closes, climate change becomes a runaway chain reaction and our kids and our grandkids live in a country where Australia heats by over three degrees in their lifetimes, where farming in the Murray-Darling Basin is going to become nigh on impossible in many parts of it, where whole cities will become uninhabitable during our kids' lifetimes, where droughts become a regular occurrence, as do bushfires. That is what is at stake, and this parliament, this government and this opposition cannot be the ones who stand by and listen to that science and pretend to accept it and then go and open up new coal and gas projects.

It makes sense not just if we care about our kids, and it makes sense not just from a climate point of view but from an economic one too. Global capital is quickly fleeing emissions intensive projects. These coal and gas projects need to run for three or four decades to be profitable.

There will be no customers for coal and gas products in three to four decades. These assets will be stranded and the communities they leave abandoned will collapse and be forced to disperse.

Every single coal and gas project from here on in is going to have great difficulty in securing finance, because banks and insurers are exposed to great reputational risk matched only by the degree of great financial risk.

People don't want to be customers of climate-denying institutions. Young, smart talent don't want to go and work for climate-denying institutions, and that's why increasingly, through a form of corporate socialism that I know the member for Goldstein loves and boosts every time he comes here, it is the public that is now having to put their hands in their pockets and give money to these big tax-dodging corporations to go and open up new coal and gas fields, because the banks won't touch them with a barge pole. So the member for Goldstein comes in here and says, 'Well, let's have the public subsidise these big tax-dodging corporations,' in a form of corporate welfare that most people are astounded even exists.

I repeat the point that I made at the start in conclusion. We have differences of views about how quickly we should get out of existing coal and gas, but everyone can surely agree that we shouldn't open up new coal and gas projects. No-one should be able to refuse this, and it's what the Australian people want.

Hero image: Pexels.

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