A moratorium on new coal mines: a hypocritical Australian gesture

Recently there has been an Australian move to propose a moratorium on new coal mines.

For several years I have researched energy supplies on the ground in India and Pakistan.  I have also researched how engineers respond to the challenges of energy and water supplies there, and also in Australia.

I strongly disagree with this moratorium proposal.

Why?

First, it will be seen as hypocritical and selfish in countries like India and Pakistan because we Australians, more than many countries, have grown rich and prosperous by burning vast quantities of coal in the past and continue to do so today.

Second, in countries where energy supplies are already very limited, a measure like this would (if enacted) hit those least able to adapt the hardest.

Yes, it has been argued that distributed solar PV and other technologies provide more economically effective alternatives than burning coal with less total cost (including externalities).  I agree.  However, the reality today is that billions of people still rely on energy from coal which is subsidised to make it affordable for the poorest.  These subsidies are unsustainable for national economies just as coal is unsustainable for the planet.  However, in the absence of an economically and politically practicable means to transition from coal, a moratorium on new coal mines is an empty and hypocritical gesture that undermines efforts to find workable solutions that could help everyone.

What would such a transition involve?

Engineers in Australia and elsewhere are developing far more energy-efficient means to provide the services we rely on. If we want to win the support of people in countries like India and Pakistan, we have to act to provide the support they need to use these technologies… and quickly.

I have written about solutions that could be part of this. I am also working on other solutions, such as air conditioning that relies on much less energy than conventional methods.

I have also written in my book on the need to re-educate engineers to implement such solutions effectively, and to encourage investors to provide the resources needed to do this.

We need to encourage solutions that are based on ground realities today in low-income countries if we are to build a global consensus that will enable us to implement effective solutions to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas and other pollutants. For more, see chapter 13 in my book which explains why conventional engineering approaches have failed in so many countries.  We can learn from this research and, as engineers, we can do more to fix these issues than most other people.

In early January I will be launching a low-cost edition of my book in Pakistan, in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.  The book could greatly help engineers in countries like Pakistan overcome the challenges that stand in the way of a consensus on climate change solutions.


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