Rio Tinto’s energy division chief says climate change discussions are idealistic and need to centre around carbon capture and storage.
However, the executive has been subject to criticism for his comments after it emerged the multi- national miner has stopped funding the mining industry's Coal21 group, a $1-billion industry fund to finance clean coal technology.
Speaking at the Energy Policy Institute of Australia meeting on Friday, Harry Kenyon-Slaney said the mining industry can't just wish away fossil fuels and that solutions to climate change must recognise the ongoing major role of fossil fuel in the global energy mix, Mining.com reported.
“Knowing that coal is here to stay, it is fruitless to keep indulging in idealistic discussions about climate change,” Kenyon-Slaney said.
He added that that coal, gas, uranium and renewables would all be needed to meet global energy demand growth of 69% expected in the next 20 years.
Kenyon-Slaney added the industry has an obligation to take action on climate change, while also helping parts of the world where people have no access to electricity.
It is estimated over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity globally, and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities.
More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.
Coal21 amended its objectives in 2013 by refocusing beyond carbon emissions so that is also now an advocate for the use of coal in Australia and overseas.
Some commentators have been quick to attack Kenyon-Slaney for his comments.
“As if to highlight Rio Tinto’s own lack of faith in the CCS, Kenyon-Slaney said the company had invested $100 million in the technology. This from a company that earns billions from coal mining each year —earnings that most analysts say is at risk if the world get serious about climate change,” wrote Giles Parkinson for RenewEconomy.
“To put that investment into context,” Parkinson adds, “a Perth-based start-up, Carnegie Wave Energy, has invested a similar amount in its new technology. It has yet to earn a dollar, but at least it has faith it will work.”
BHP Billiton chief executive Andrew Mackenzie recently said more than 70 per cent of the world’s energy will be supplied by fossil fuels in 2030 as countries boosted economic growth and pulled people out of “abject poverty”
Developing nations would require improved access to fuel in order to grow their economies and pull people out of poverty Mackenzie said.
He said switching to other fuel sources was simply not an option for some nations.
“I think many people who criticise fossil fuels – and crucified individual fossil fuels – assume that every country has a very easy choice to switch fuels,” he told The Australian.
“And that is not the case … If you say to many of those countries, and particularly a lot of countries in Asia and I would add Africa, ‘You have to reject fossil fuels and you have to simply survive or even reject coal, and you have to survive on just gas’, then I can tell you now, because of the high cost of those fuels, that those countries will almost certainly be condemned to a much longer phase before they can lift their citizens out of abject poverty. And I’m a great believer that poverty of that level ultimately is quite a serious polluter.”
He said any attempt to solve climate change and energy poverty separately would be destined to fail.
Mackenzie said a sensible policy mix was needed, stating he did give conditional support to carbon pricing mechanisms.