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G20 leaders slap down embarrassing Abbott and the COALition

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(Image by John Graham)

The G20 delivered a stinging riposte to the Abbott Government, which is now seen around the world as little more than an arm of the fossil fuel industry. Lachlan Barker reports.

MUCH HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN about the gut-wrenching embarrassment that all Australians suffered watching our prime minister talking with world leaders at the G20.

My favourite was from LA Times journalist Robyn Dixon who described Tony Abbott as:

‘The shrimp of the school yard’.

This perfectly encapsulated how we all felt as we listened to Tony Abbott’s speech to, frankly, bemused world leaders, as he told them of how his Government had stopped the boats and how none of us ungrateful Australians could see why it was so important to pay $7 to go see a doctor.

It was really embarrassing stuff; I struggle to think of a way it could have been worse.

As if Angela Merkel and all the rest could care less about a $7 payment that....

Actually, I can’t even go on, it’s too hard to revisit it in written form.

Of course here in the environment section, the real issue and that is an exact description, believe me, was climate change. Australia, sorry, Tony Abbott, didn’t even want it discussed but, thankfully, U.S. President Barack Obama wasn’t having that and he made a speech ‒ direct in its nature ‒ to the Australian people, talking of the effects of climate change, warning of “drought, wildfires, flood and storm damage,” as well as saying:

"… the incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened."

Obama added that he wished to be able to return with his daughters and see the Reef, and:

"I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit and I want that there 50 years from now."

 Of climate change’s effects he said:

“No nation is immune, and each nation must play its part."

It was a genuinely world leading stuff from a genuine world leader, and so much at variance to the pint-sized utterings of our embarrassment of a prime minister.

Thankfully, the world leaders that were there, did get climate change discussed, and a communiqué was released, which one leader’s aide described as trench warfare to get done. Tony Abbott fought tooth and nail against world sentiment to downplay the effects of coal on the world’s climate as part of this process.

Away from climate change, one thing that was on the G20’s agenda was two per cent economic growth, and that is fair enough, as it is in essence an economic forum. However, even this modest outcome was largely shown to be pointless by Professor John Kirton, co-director of the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, who appeared on ABC TV’s Insiders program on Sunday, 16 November.

Professor Kirton quoted Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the OECD, and, said professor Kirton:

“Angel Gurria has said that if we don’t do something right here, right now, to control climate change, the economic cost if going to be a minus six per cent hit on GDP, it rather makes the plus two percent that we are struggling to get here rather small in comparison.”

He then added:

“… so simply if you want a summit that is focussed on generating on global economic growth you have to look at both sides of the balance sheet, I think every business person knows that, not just trying to get two more, but also stopping the loss of the six per cent.”

So arguing for economic growth in isolation of environmental destruction is once again shown to be a genuine waste of time.

However, one of the main proponents of this two per cent growth goal, Treasurer Joe Hockey, did show (finally) some grasp of reality in the run up to the G20.

Hockey said in an interview with Fran Kelly on Radio National:

“70 per cent of Australia’s economy is services, but it’s only 17 per cent of our exports. So what we’ve got to do is lift our export in services and then we can supplement the massive export growth that we have in resources.”

So it’s good that at least the Treasurer has finally caught up with the rest of us, who have been saying for a long time that services are indeed 70 per cent of the economy and are a damn sight less polluting thing to export than mining products.

So why is Joe saying this now?

Well it seems that he has understood that resources exporting is in severe decline and it’s time to back a more sustainable horse in this race: services. It seems from his statement that a big part of the two per cent growth he is looking for will come, not from mining, but from services — education, health and finance are three examples.

Welcome to the twenty first century Joe.

But if the Treasurer is starting to orbit sanity, our prime minister continues to delve deeper into the mire is nuttiness, as part of his lunatic backing of coal against world sentiment, the prime minister said:

“The point I made in the G20 and perhaps it wasn’t the most popular point I made, is coal is very important, it’s an important part of the Australian economy, it’s an important part of the world’s energy supply and it will be for decades to come.”

Well, Tony, one seriously questions the use of the plural (decades) in that statement.

Turns out that coal may be an important part of the world’s energy supply for a lot less time than that and here’s why.

Glencore, one of Australia’s largest miners, have recently announced that they are temporarily closing all their coal mines in Australia ‒ shuttering, it’s called ‒ for three weeks in December. This is due to the world oversupply of thermal coal, used in power generation.  This is reflected in the spot price of coal, which dropped another 3.11 per cent last month to $US68.45 a tonne, and is therefore now US$6 below the profitable line for coal production in Australia.

One bank, ANZ, has predicted that the supply overhang will clear, possibly as early as 2016 or 2017, thus making the mining of thermal coal profitable again. However, the supply overhang has to be cleared for the price to go up again, and this is hardly likely if Australia continues to bring new coal mines on line, as in the Galilee basin in Queensland, which will clearly only add to the oversupply problem.

Added to which there is a nexus of disaster for Australia’s coal exporting looming, to wit: the above mentioned supply overhang coinciding with China’s massive investment in renewable power. China has already halved its coal imports, and with its avowed goal of creating 1.3 gigawatts of power from renewable sources, a week, for the next fifteen years, it could cease importing coal altogether.

India are going the same way, RenewEconomy tells us: 

‘… in a landmark announcement that has caught the global coal industry totally by surprise, India’s Energy Minister, Piyush Goyal has announced an ambitious target that could see India cease thermal coal imports within two to three years.’

This of course shows once more the insanity, the environmental and fiscal lunacy of the Carmichael Coal Mine in Queensland. That mine is a massively destructive thing, with deleterious effects on the nearby agricultural land, the Great Artesian Basin, Australia’s greenhouse emissions and the Great Barrier Reef and all to dig up unprofitable coal for India, which, as RenewEconomy has now shown, India doesn’t really want.

All of the above allows us to paraphrase the great Oscar Wilde:

“Economically speaking, the only thing worse than fighting climate change, is not fighting climate change."

And in answer to the prime minister’s assertion that coal will be important for decades to come, we can say that coal will be important for perhaps another decade — one.

Maybe.

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