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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pacific civil society in Fiji calls out Australian climate ambassador on climate action

Ambassador Suckling at COP22 in Marrakech - Photo John Englart

Originally published at

Australian Ambassador for Climate Change Patrick Suckling is currently visiting Fiji this week to hold bilateral meetings with the Fiji Presidency in regard to the COP23 United Nations climate negotiations (which will be held in Bonn, Germany in November 2017).

Fiji and other Pacific island governments are demanding that polluting nations step up action to reduce emissions.

In conjunction with Suckling's presence for bilateral talks, the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) released an open letter calling for Australia to take further action on emissions reduction and to stop new coal mines and coal mine expansions.

Suckling was Australia's High Commissioner to India prior to being appointed the climate ambassador and chief climate negotiator for Australia in February 2016.

While serving as the High Commissioner in India Suckling made a number of statements in support of the Carmichael Coal mine proposed to be developed by Indian power conglomerate Adani in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

Graham Readfearn in the Guardian highlighted some of these statements:

“This project will drive economic growth and create more than 6,000 jobs in Australia,” he said in 2014. “It will also boost India’s development by providing electricity to 100 million Indians.”

In one report in the Economic Times, Suckling was quoted as saying the Australian government was trying to tighten legal rules around who could and could not challenge coalmines through the courts (a theme that has re-emerged in recent weeks).

“We are actively thinking of possible ways to limit the scope of litigation to only those with a real standing in a project,” he was quoted as saying.

Turnbull Government supports 'clean coal' power push

Significantly, this week we have had the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull making statements in support of 'clean coal' at the National Press Club. Similar to Tony Abbott's coal lobby line of Coal is good for humanity. The Australian Conservation Foundation were quick to send a Note to PM: clean coal doesn’t exist. The Climate Council provided a factcheck of Turnbull's energy talking points: what he got wrong and to be fair, what he got right.

Turnbull's speech was a signal for the troops to rally and amplify the signal to support coal. Never mind that if these plants will ever get built it will force electricity prices to skyrocket.

According to energy analyst Tim Buckley from IEEFA via a tweet, The AI Group shows that at 60% utilisation, new Australian USC minemouth-coal fired power would cost A$100/MWh i.e. 15% more than renewables.

The expert view at The Conversation is that New coal plants wouldn’t be clean, and would cost billions in taxpayer subsidies. Other experts were clear: Electricity prices could double with new coal-fired stations.

Why do we get such bad policy from this government? Maybe its the advisors that they appoint.

Just announced to be Malcolm Turnbull’s next climate and energy adviser is Sid Marris, who is leaving his role as head of climate and environment at the coal industry lobby group, the Minerals Council of Australia. This is part of the revolving door arrangement between politics and fossil fuels which is undermining policy outcomes in Australia.

The fact is modern Ultra super critical coal power stations are expensive to build and maintain, only reduce emissions by around 20 percent from black coal fired power stations and lock in these emissions for 40-60 years. On a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) basis they are already more expensive than wind, solar, and peaking gas turbines. They make zero economic sense now, and that is before we factor in the projected reductions in wind and solar in the next few years that will drive an energy revolution. Just read the Expect the Unexpected report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Adani Carmichael coal mine a carbon bomb and stranded asset

The Turnbull government is still intent on the proposed Adani development of the Carmichael coal mine for export to India. It appears to be ignorant that 95 percent of Australia's coal (excluding any CCS) needs to remain unburned, in the ground (McGlade and Ekins 2015).

The market for import coal in India is drying up very quickly. Indian coal imports were down 6 percent in 2015 and a further 6 percent in 2016 to 195Mt: the decline accelerated to 25 percent year-on-year reduction in December 2016. India is also contemplating doubling coal royalty rates from 14 percent to 30 percent, further enhancing solar competitiveness. Add to this India's Power, RE, Coal and Mines Minister Piyush Goyal said that priorities for 2017 include "Mine in India" import substitution, coal washing, plus renewable energy and energy efficiency.

And then there is all the probity about Adani being a proper business for the development. According to Tim Buckley in a series of tweets on January 22, 2017: Adani Power Ltd experienced a Net loss of US$48m for the December 2016 quarter. The company is on track for it's fifth annual net loss since FY2012. This highlights the strategic weakness of new imported coal fired power generation in India. Adani Power Ltd has a Net debt of US$7.3bn; more than four times market capitalisation. Shares are down 60 percent in the last five years. Based on this, Adani Power Ltd is clearly not a bankable counterparty for Adani Australia.

Adani Australia are linked to the parent Indian company through a complex web of companies with a very opaque company structure. Some of the companies are based in the Cayman Islands tax haven.

If the Carmichael mine goes ahead, it would be the biggest coal mine in Australia and one of the biggest in the world.

To give you some idea, the annual emissions from burning the coal it produces would be similar to those of the whole of Malaysia or Austria, and more than New York City.

Pacific calls on Australia to end fossil fuel expansion

“With Fiji playing an important role in the process of implementing the Paris Agreement, the support by Australia for the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry is a slap in the face of the vulnerable Pacific Islands. If the Australian Government has seriously recognized the plight of the Pacific in dealing with climate change and rising sea levels, they must look at its complicity in the problem the Pacific is facing,” said Pacific Coordinator, Mrs. Koreti Tiumalu in a statement.

“The most effective move the Australian Government could take is to immediately say no to the Carmichael coal mine and urgently take the necessary actions required to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy.” said Tiumalu

“As the world’s largest coal producer and one of the biggest per capita climate polluters, Australia has a responsibility to act swiftly on climate. If Australia wants to be good regional neighbors they must demonstrate genuine action and tackle the causes of climate change, by neither allowing new coal mines nor pushing for the construction of new coal power stations.” she said.

350 Pacific and the Pacific Climate Warriors are going to be active in the leadup to COP23 with highlighting Australia’s inaction on climate change and urge Pacific leaders to rally together and call on Australia to end its fossil fuel expansion.

“Our Pacific leaders must remain vigilant for the future of our Islands – they know what is at stake and have in fact called for a global moratorium on coal mines. Fiji’s presidency at COP 23 this year will be a chance for the Pacific to emphasize how Australia’s inaction on climate change speaks louder than words,” concluded Tiumalu.

Pacific Islands CAN (PICAN) brings together civil society actors in Pacific island countries advocating for climate justice. The organisation is a regional node of the global Climate Action Network (CAN-International). The Open letter via Pina follows in full below.

An open letter from the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network to the Australian Ambassador for Climate Change, Patrick Suckling.

SUVA, Fiji Islands

Dear Ambassador,

Time and again, Pacific island leaders have explained that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific. We must work together to tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, and there is no polite way to put this, your government is knowingly undermining our future and the future of our children. In full knowledge of the facts and long-term impacts, the Australian government is pressing ahead with new coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

This directly contradicts global efforts to tackle climate change and puts our communities in peril.

To add insult to injury, you personally encouraged the Indian energy corporation Adani to invest in a massive new coal project in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. In your previous role, as Australian Ambassador to India, you described the proposed mine - which will produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal per year for 60 years - as an ‘outstanding project’.

In recent years, cyclones of unprecedented strength have reminded us of the brutal reality of a changing climate. In Fiji last year, and Vanuatu in 2015, Category 5 cyclones killed dozens, reduced towns and villages to rubble, and pushed people into poverty.

Just this week you explained Australia will continue to support Fiji during the recovery from Cyclone Winston, as part of Australia’s commitment to working with the region on climate change. Your recognition that climate change contributes to stronger storms is important. Australia’s support for island communities recovering from disasters is welcomed. However, we need you to do more to address the warming trend that is making these storms more dangerous than ever.

In the wake of monster cyclones, Pacific islanders went without food to keep their children nourished and walked kilometers to find water for their families. We faced escalated family violence. We understand that this is just the beginning.

Unless polluting nations take action now, we can expect more strong storms, coral bleaching, an acidic ocean, changing rainfall patterns, crop failures, difficulties accessing drinking water, rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

It is clear what must be done to tackle climate change. We must all take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a zero emissions economy. The world has a limited carbon budget – the amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere before global temperatures exceed 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average.

Going beyond this threshold will threaten the very existence of Pacific nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

To keep global warming to 1.5°C the vast majority of the world’s coal reserves must remain in the ground. This is not a matter of political debate, but of physics. Heeding these facts, Pacific leaders have called for an urgent international moratorium on the development and expansion of fossil fuel-extracting industries, particularly new coal mines.

Australia is already the world’s largest exporter of coal. Disturbingly, your government is planning to dramatically increase coal exports, with public subsidies and taxpayer-funded infrastructure for new mining ventures.

Just yesterday, the Australian government announced it was considering subsidising new coal-fired power plants. This is deeply disappointing, and against the tide of global action to tackle climate change.

Australia’s current targets to reduce emissions, pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement, are woefully inadequate. They are in no way consistent with keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C. The Marshall Islands ambassador for climate change Tony de Brum has explained that if the rest of the world set similar targets, his country, and other low-lying Pacific islands, would disappear.

Australia is not on track to meet even its inadequate targets. Building new coal power stations will make matters worse, by locking in emissions for decades.

This year, Fiji is President of the global climate negotiations. Fiji and other Pacific island governments are demanding that polluting nations reduce emissions, consistent with keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

It is time for Australia to accept the scale of action required to tackle climate change. We must all move away from fossil fuels, and immediately transition to renewable energy. Together, we must support climate action around the globe.

Pacific islanders are not drowning. We are fighting for our future. As our friend and near neighbor, we expect you, and the Australian government, to do more.


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