A coal industry leader claims extreme environmental activists are ideologically driven to destroy Australia's coal industry but have no commercially reliable and affordable solution to global climate change.
Chief of the Australian Coal Association Dr Nikki Williams said last night that eco-activists are very active and make a lot of noise but were a relative minority of well-resourced, professional, internationally connected campaigners.
She said their mission to extinguish coal was derailing the energy/climate debate and distracting attention from the suite of solutions that need to be embraced.
"Many anti-coal activists are deluding the public about their real agenda. For them, development is the problem. They are really saying that energy consumption must be radically cut. But, that means accepting unfed mouths, uncured poverty and subsistence existence," she said in an address to the Sydney Institute.
Williams said eco-activists had no answer to how world energy demand would be met for the people in China, India and other developing nations who were trying to escape poverty.
Around 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity and 2.6 billion still cook and heat with dung or scavenged timber.
"The eco-warriors are not trying to force the coal industry to be more responsive to environmental or social values. On the contrary, their focus is to put the coal industry out of business and in doing that, they jeopardise much more than the commercial interests of coal companies.
Williams pointed to the far reaching consequences if the activist agenda was fully realised.
“Coal produced by these companies electrifies 90% of NSW and 75% of Australia. As a $60 billion sector, coal is Australia’s second largest export earner after iron ore.
"Over the last decade, coal companies have invested $125 billion in Australia and paid $210 billion in taxes and royalties and they directly and indirectly employ around a quarter of a million Australians.”
Williams did concede that emissions were of concern, but said coal was a vital energy source for billions around the world.
"Let’s be clear. Greenhouse gases from burning coal are a problem. I simply point out some obvious truths: coal is being used and will continue to be used to drag hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. So, stopping Australia’s coal exports is a sham response, perhaps even a shameful response, if you are really concerned about global warming because if we don’t have a solution for coal use – particularly in China and India – we don’t have a solution to climate change. This incontrovertible fact is recognised by every major entity including the World Bank, the IEA and the IPCC."
Williams distinguished between extremist anti-coal campaigners and the protest activities of people who live in mining regions.
"There is an enormous difference between local people seeking answers and reassurance or expressing opposition to a particular course of action by a coal company and the actions of political campaigners, whose only objective, by whatever means and on the basis of whatever cause, is to extinguish the industry."
Campaigns to halt coal mining are on the rise throughout Australia, with some groups going to great lengths to destabilise the industry.
Earlier this year, a fake press release forced Nathan Tinkler's Whitehaven Coal into a trading halt today after $314 million was wiped off the company's value.
The fake release, produced by activist group Font Line Action on Coal, purported to be from ANZ and claimed the bank had withdrawn a recent $1.2 billion loan to help develop the Maules Creek project.
Greenpeace activist Emma Giles said:
"We've taken the action today because Australia is on track to almost double its coal exports in the next decade. Both major political parties have no solutions on the table. It is time to slow down the coal boom.
"Our leaders are failing us so it's up to us to take civil disobedience and to slow down and stop these coal ships. We are set to stay here as long as it takes."
At the time Williams called the stunt irresponsible.