Australia can’t fight the anti-coal feeling anymore

We have never talked about energy from so many perspectives as we have in the past few months. We are at an important juncture where expectations and norms are being reset.

The debate has been fuelled by recent events, particularly the South Australian blackouts and closure of Hazelwood.

Hazelwood closing shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it’s inevitable that all our ageing coal-fired plants will close and it’s very unlikely any new ones will be built.

Scott Morrison waving around coal in Parliament marked the high (or low) point of the current energy debate. The market was very clear – risks around carbon intensive assets make them uninvestable. Westpac Bank’s announcement last week not to finance new thermal coal projects reinforces this. While the broader community was struck by how out of step our leaders are.

Australia can’t fight this move away from coal. International expectations, technology (both supply and demand), and economics all categorically say we will end up with a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid. 

The world is de-carbonising, and it’s doing so at a rate much faster than Australia.

In January, China announced a half-a-trillion-dollar investment in renewable energy over the next three years, and at the same time halted construction of 85 coal-fired power plants.

Last month, Europe drew a line on any new coal fired plants and more than 50 countries have now committed to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2050.

Even the change in the US hasn’t, and won’t deter what’s happening on the ground. Markets, business and the community are far greater drivers of change.

Australians need to avoid the temptation to cling to legacy positions, rather let’s embrace change for all our futures.

James Wright is director and chief executive of the Future Business Council.