Australia

Australian government backs coal despite 'global catastrophe' climate warning

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Coal generated about 62 per cent of Australia's electricity in 2016-17, while renewable sources like wind and hydro generated only 15.6 per cent.

The Australian government says it will not phase out the use of coal-fired power, despite a new report saying its elimination is integral to limiting global warming.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned there will be a "global catastrophe" if temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of the decade.

A loaded coal train pass through the outskirts of Singleton, in the NSW Hunter Valley.
A loaded coal train pass through the outskirts of Singleton, in the NSW Hunter Valley.
AAP

The scientists said government commitments to curb climate change under the Paris Climate Agreement, even if fully met, would still leave the world on track for about 3 degrees of warming.

Coal-fired electricity must also end by 2050 if the world is to limit global warming increases to 1.5 degrees.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday he would consider the report, but maintained Australia is satisfied with meeting its targets under the Paris Agreement. 

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack rejected the possibility of coal being phased out in the near future.

"I'm very much supportive of the coal industry," he told Sky News on Monday.

"I understand the IPCC report and I'll certainly consider what it has to say, but the fact is coal mining does play an important part of our energy mix in Australia and will do so going forward.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
AAP

"He said the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy called on the government to change tactics.

"The government does have a bit of a love affair with coal and see the use of coal in Australia going on forever," she said.

"But what we know is that we can phase it out in a responsible, planned way over the next couple of decades into clean energy.

"Hanging on to coal is reckless and very dangerous because it will fuel global warming."

Tropical fish swim along the edges of a coral reef.
An increase in temperatures of just 1.5C could destroy the Great Barrier Reef, a new report says.
AAP

The agricultural industry is also calling for a shift to renewable energy.  

Farmers for Climate Action chief executive Verity Morgan-Schmidt said the government needs to have a fully-funded national strategy on agriculture and climate change. 

"We're seeing challenges such as an increasing late-season frost rift across southern Australia," she said. "We're seeing deeper and more severe and more frequent drought, which is already playing havoc on our agriculture production systems."

"Farmers are committed to farming sustainably into the future," she said.

"We need the political leadership and the decisive action."

A view of the Bayswater coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley
Black and brown coal generated about 62 per cent of Australia's electricity in 2016-17
AAP

According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, black and brown coal generated about 62 per cent of Australia's electricity in 2016-17.

Renewable sources like wind and hydro generated only 15.6 per cent.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the "lights would go out on the east coast of Australia" if coal was phased out.

But Greens M-P Adam Bandt said it is imperative that Australia abandons its coal-fired power plants.

"When it comes to coal, Australia is the world's biggest drug dealer." he said.

"Australia is responsible for sending coal off to other countries and the atmosphere doesn't care where it gets burnt.

"Australia is enabling the kind of climate pollution that the world scientists are now telling us we've got to stop."

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