Dr Richard Denniss says Wales should join with a call for a moratorium on new coal mines.
This week the president of the small Pacific island state of Kiribati wrote to the First Minister of Wales asking for help in tackling climate change. The response from Wales has the potential to shape not just the lead up to the Paris climate talks in December, but the future focus of efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll come back to how after I discuss the why.
Despite all of the polite diplomacy in the lead up to the next round of big climate change talks in Paris, countries and communities are on a collision course. While Wales has made clear its opposition to building new open cast mines, the Australian national government and the government of the Welsh namesake of New South Wales, are not just approving enormous new coal mines, they are subsidising their construction.
While New South Wales was named for the quality and quantity of its coal, it is a long time since coal mining was a major employer. Like Wales, where these days mining employs less than one-tenth of a percent of the workforce (it’s such a small employer its impossible to be more accurate as the official statistics don’t even treat it as a stand-alone industry), in New South Wales only 1 per cent of jobs are in mining. But unlike Wales, in Australia it is still mining first, community second, environment third.
Australia’s Liverpool plains, another British namesake, will soon see some of the world’s most fertile agricultural land converted into an enormous open cast coal mine. In Queensland, the enormous Adani/Carmichael coal mine which was approved last week by the Australian government will produce at least 2 billion tonnes of coal over its life. Enough to build a road of coal 10 metres wide, 1 metre deep and 200,000 kilometres long. Long enough to loop the world 5 times. At 40km long and 10 km wide the pits alone would stretch from Aberthaw to beyond Wales’ biggest opencast mine near Merthyr Tudful.
But while individual communities can fight against the impact of individual mines, it is the global community that must unite if it is to tackle the global problem of climate change. But the simple fact is that while Europe is committed to tackling climate change, countries like Australia are committed to doubling their coal exports. Again, a collision is coming, and communities and counties will have to take sides.
Last week the President of Kiribati wrote to the First Minister of Wales asking the people of Wales to join him in supporting a moratorium on all new coal mines. There are many reasons to oppose new coal mines including air pollution, water pollution, the destruction of farmland and, of course, climate change. But President Tong wants communities and countries around the world to unite in a simple commitment to a simple principle, namely, it is impossible to start tackling climate change until we stop building new coal mines.
For many years people have argued that we can’t move away from coal because mines ‘create jobs’ but the reality is the arts and recreation industry employ 20 times as many people in wales than the mines. Health and human services employ 100 times as many. Building hospitals creates far more jobs than building mines.
Years were also wasted by scare stories about how expensive renewable power would be when, of course, renewables are now being blamed for driving electricity prices too low in Germany.
Tacking climate change will require major change, but Wales, New South Wales and all communities have gone through many such major changes since coal first began the industrial revolution. It’s not a lack of technology or jobs that is holding back real efforts to tackle climate change, its a lack of leadership.
President Tong’s bold idea, and his request for help, was not just sent to Wales last week, it was sent to leaders around the world. The National Assembly for Wales has already shown leadership in its opposition to open cast mining on its own territory. President Tong is calling on Wales to show that same leadership on the global stage.
Wales could be the fist European country to join President Tong’s call. Of course some may argue that Wales is too small to take on such a leadership role in Europe, but, by that logic, President Tong should sit back and wait for someone else to save his country from the rising sea levels that new coal mines will cause. Leadership is about strength, not size.
So far 11 Pacific countries have supported President tong’s call for a moratorium, as have voices as diverse as Sir Nicholas stern and Naomi Klein. Wales played a central role in delivering the industrial revolution and it can now play a central role in helping to lead the world out of the coal age by simply supporting President Tong and calling on the UK, Europe and others to follow their example.
A moratorium isn’t the only thing we need to do to tackle climate change, but if we don’t stop building new coal mines we have no chance to stop dangerous climate change. As we say in Australia, the best thing to do when you are in a hole is to stop digging.