Why ‘Clean Coal’ Is No Excuse For Burning Coal

30 July 2008


Our coal ship painting action the other day put both Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett on the spot, forcing them to respond publicly about their plans to expand the coal industry. Both politicians used the development of so-called ‘clean coal’ technology as their defence.

‘Clean coal’, or carbon capture and storage technology, is shaping up to be a convenient excuse for the government whenever questioned on their lack of action on climate change. The alleged potential for it to ‘save’ the coal industry provides an escape clause; a justification for why we can continue with business as usual and feel confident that Australia will still ultimately do its bit in averting a climate disaster. Apparently we can breathe a collective sigh of relief because nothing needs to change and at some point in the future we can efficiently deal with the consequences of our current actions.

This is largely the tone of an Op Ed in the SMH Online today, written in response to our report highlighting the serious problems with ‘clean coal’. It talks about the fact that the technology could potentially make a big reduction in greenhouse pollution by… wait for it: 2100. And this is this single biggest flaw in the ‘clean coal’ solution: it simply ISN’T a solution, at least not for climate change. Because it will not be ready in time.

Carbon capture and storage is as yet unproven technology, yet the Rudd and Bligh governments are already moving to build new coal infrastructure for both the domestic and export industries. The millions of extra tonnes of carbon emissions this expansion will create will not benefit from the supposed future development of ‘clean coal’ technology (if this happens at all). On the other hand, these emissions could be avoided by government investment in renewable infrastructure, using proven, existing technologies which are already providing zero-emission power in other parts of the world.

Now that politicians and the public have largely accepted the fact of human-induced climate change, the next big business-backed myth we need to be over and done with is that clean coal is going to save the climate.