Why is the Rudd government so keen on “clean coal” as a solution to the climate crisis?
The coal industry’s power as a section of the ruling class makes it a scary beast for them to challenge.
Australian companies export about 50 per cent of the world’s coal used for steel-making and about a fifth of that used in power generation-and prices are rising.
While visiting China last month, Rudd and Climate Change minister Penny Wong announced a plan to share research into “clean coal” technology. $20 million has been earmarked for a joint taskforce.
This is along with $500 million for the Clean Coal Fund here.
Unfortunately “clean coal” looks like a disastrous distraction. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is still in its development phase, and may never achieve commercial use for coal-fired power stations.
The coal industry’s hope is that carbon gases from burning coal can be captured before they enter the atmosphere, compressed and liquefied, then transported to sealed underground sites and stored there “forever”. This would allow the burning of coal for energy generation to continue.
There are a number of CCS plants around the world-and a tiny pilot project in Victoria-but they don’t operate at coal-fired power stations. CCS is unlikely to come on stream until 2020, it may only capture a low percentage of emissions, and its cost may require massive additional government subsidies.
Perversely estimates are that it would require 15 to 25 per cent extra energy to run.
WWF, the Climate Institute and the Mining division of the CFMEU have lined up with the Australian Coal Association and put faith in CCS technology. But what we really need is massive investment in existing renewable energy systems, greatly expanded public transport and mandatory building and appliance energy and water efficiency rules.
Rudd’s government oversees 28 times more spending and tax benefits for fossil fuels than it does for renewable energy. He was elected on a wave of frustration that Howard was in denial about the climate crisis.
But he is gambling with life on Earth to suit the needs of Australian coal, oil and gas corporations.