4 Jul 2017

Climate vs coal: Australia accused of hypocrisy

3:29 pm on 4 July 2017

An Australian economist has accused his government of hypocrisy at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership in Fiji.

coal mine

Photo: 123rf

Roderick Campbell from the Australia Institute said Canberra claimed to be helping the Pacific deal with climate change while planning to double coal exports.

Mr Campbell urged Pacific leaders to push for a global moratorium on new coal mines at November's COP 23 UN climate change conference in Bonn.

He said the Australian government as well as its coal industry could be receptive to the idea.

"The importance of coal in the Australian economy is widely overstated," said Mr Campbell. "Coal accounts for less than one percent of Australian employment ... [and] no more than two percent of government revenue.

"If Australia was to stop approving new mines the effect would actually be to increase coal prices, which would work in the favour of existing coal mines. There are parts of the coal industry that don't want to see new coal mines."

Mr Campbell said Australia boasted about its climate aid when its overall aid budget had been cut to an all time low.

"Australia's aid budget is at an absolute historic low of 0.2 percent of national income ... and within our most miserly aid budget, climate aid to the Pacific is just two percent of that [AU$75 million a year]."

In contrast, the Australian government provided billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to the coal industry each year, according to Mr Campbell, with a new mine in Queensland set to receive a "AU$1 billion subsidised loan and a $320 million royalty holiday".

Pressure from the Pacific could be effective, he said, given media attention in Australia to visiting Pacific leaders who have already backed a moratorium.

"Australia tends to ignore the Pacific most of the time, but when Pacific leaders come to Australia to talk about climate change and demonstrate the hypocrisy of our policy on subsidising new coal mines it lands a punch in Australia. I think it would land an even bigger punch if they take it to the COP talks," said Mr Campbell.

"The Pacific holds much more diplomatic power with Australia and our allies than is currently being leveraged."