Thursday, July 22, 2021

Looking for more coal is indefensible

Siberia is burning. China is flooding. Westport flooded last weekend. And against this backdrop of climate breakdown, the Southland District Council thinks its a good time to approve new coal exploration.

This is a terrible idea. But its also a waste of time. Any coal discovered can never be burned - not if Southland wants to keep its neighbours in Invercargill above water, anyway - so there is literally no point even looking for it. The best thing we can do with coal is leave it in the ground and forget about it. And even Southland District mayor Gary Tong seemed to recognise how indefensible his position was: he didn't want to say why the council had approved it, and certainly didn't want to say whether he had personally supported it (in the end, he admitted he did, with some mumbling about "jobs" and that they'd just get "Crown Minerals" - actually the Minister - to approve it instead. Well, then the Minister can be the climate criminal and face the lawsuit rather than him).

We need this to stop happening - both to remove the risk of further coal being burned, but also to stop companies from wasting their resources pursuing an asset which will ultimately become stranded and valueless. How do we do it? An immediate amendment to the Crown Minerals Act forbidding any future exploration or mining permits for coal and other fossil fuels would be a start, along with a sunset clause on existing permits and resource consents. That would both cut off supply, and send a clear message to existing coal users that they need to transition to carbon-free alternatives. The only question is how long we give them to phase out: five years or ten.

Update: And if any MP wants to work on this, here's the first stab at a member's bill to do those things: the Crown Minerals (Ending Fossil Fuels) Amendment Bill. It needs work, in particular on transitional provisions to state clearly that the new provisions prevail and apply to all pending applications, and that no compensation is payable (and on unpicking previous transitional provisions which preserve rights against past amendments) - but its a start.