Australia loyal to old king coal
By Sid Astbury Apr 26, 2007, 9:28 GMT
Sydney - Is clean coal an oxymoron like organized chaos, paid volunteer or safe speeding? Or is it really possible to capture the carbon that now belches from coal-fired power stations and bury it in the ground?
Prime Minister John Howard says the alchemy of geosequestration is easily done and will ensure the survival of Australia 's coal industry. His critics say it's a chimera and the only way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to leave coal in the ground.
' Australia can't address climate change without reducing our coal exports and emissions,' Greens leader Bob Brown says. 'It might take decades for the task to be completed, but the scientists are telling us that we must start immediately.'
Geosequestration is untried and untested. If squeezing the nasty carbons from coal were cheap and easy, coal-fired power plants would already be doing it.
Critics say the technology is so costly that it's always going to be easier to skip coal entirely and switch to nuclear, solar or wind energy.
The first commercial-scale trial of the technology will be in the United States . American Electric Power, the biggest operator of coal-fired plants in the US , announced earlier this year it would fit carbon-capture equipment at two of its plants by 2011.
Peter Cook, the chief executive of the Greenhouse Gas Technology Co-operative Research Centre, is delighted that geosequestration is being given a go. But without a carbon-emissions trading system that would price greenhouse gases, he's not hopeful that Australia , which relies on coal-fired plants for over 80 per cent of its power, will soon have its own commercial trials.
'No one will apply the technology in Australia without the right policy and financial drivers,' Cook said. 'The costs are too high.'
Bumping up the cost of coal power would close the gap between that and the cost of nuclear power. With 40 per cent of the world's easily recoverable reserves of uranium, Australia might just skip clean coal and go no coal instead.
As ever, though, there's an economic and political dimension to the power equation. Coal is Australia 's top export, bringing in 24 billion Australian dollars (20 billion US dollars) a year in earnings. There are 28,000 miners: they vote.
Abandoning the coal industry would mean Howard abandoning the hope of getting his conservative government returned to power in a general election expected in November.
Howard pledged in April that he would veto any climate-change abatement measures that 'cost the jobs of Australian coal miners.'
Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions. And, as Graeme Gossell wrote to The Australian newspaper, 'saying that you will only take action that does not impact on our booming resource-based economy is an oxymoron because it's basically saying you will do nothing.'
The Labor Party is also promising to continue coal mining. If elected, it says it would earmark 500 million Australian dollars (400 million US dollars) for research into clean coal.
Abandoning coal at home would make it harder to defend coal exports. Ian Macfarlane, the industry minister, has another argument for continuing to ship coal. 'Substituting other countries' coal for Australian coal is no net gain for the global environment,' he says.
Those who see contradiction in the notion of clean coal, also see mischief in its promotion.
Delegates from Australia , Japan , the United States , China , Korea and India met in Sydney 16 months ago and agreed to set up the grandly titled Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Nothing more has been heard from AP6.
At the Sydney meeting, no targets for cutting emissions were set, no market mechanisms to cost them agreed, and no agreements signed committing member countries to adopt cleaner technologies.
Environmentalists noted that the six members were either major coal importers or major coal exporters. They argued that AP6 was no more than a wheeze by the governments in Australia and the US to persuade electorates that they were doing something to slow climate change.
Nature Conservation Council director Cate Faehrmann said AP6 was 'all about saving the dying and polluting coal and oil industries' rather than addressing global warming.
'The countries involved aren't meeting to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are meeting with the CEOs of the big oil and coal companies to work out how to save their industries.'© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur