Culture

The Australian Government Just Gave Millions Of Dollars To An Overseas Coal Mining Company

Meanwhile we're slashing $100 million from the CSIRO.

The federal Coalition government has been crying poor when it comes to investing in science and innovation. They’ve slashed more than $100 million and hundreds of jobs from the CSIRO, and wound back a number of climate change focused programs. Which is a smart thing to do when sea levels are rising and ice caps are melting, right? But despite cutting environmental programs and research, the government has managed to find $24 million to fund so called “clean coal” technologies.

Last week the Minister for Resources, Senator Matt Canavan, announced the details of seven grants worth nearly $24 million funded through the “Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development and Demonstration Fund”. The largest grant, worth nearly $9 million, was handed over to Swiss company Glencore. The government also handed over $700,000 to multi-national oil firm Shell, and gave millions to the CSIRO — but only to test carbon dioxide storage programs.

So what are carbon dioxide storage programs, why are we funding them and do they work?

What Is Carbon Capture And Storage?

Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change. The burning of fossil fuels like coal leads to the release of carbon dioxide, which then enters our atmosphere and leads to global warming through the greenhouse effect. Scientists are telling us that we need to stop burning coal and rapidly invest in clean, renewable energy technologies that are less harmful to the environment if we want to avoid runaway climate change.

But because this is Australia and our politicians love ignoring the advice of scientists, we’ve managed to avoid the shift to renewable energy, and are still obsessed with mining and burning coal. That’s where carbon capture comes in. The idea is to physically capture the carbon dioxide released from the burning of coal and bury it somewhere underground so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere. Sounds like a crazy plan cooked up by a Bond villain? That’s because it basically is.

The problem with carbon capture and storage is that it doesn’t work. And trying to make it work will cost a lot of money. Money that would be better spent on building proven alternatives to coal like solar and wind power. The UK government this year scrapped its $1.7 billion carbon capture and storage program and will instead look at alternative ways of reducing emissions.

Last week’s announcement shows that our government is still committed to carbon capture and storage. They’ve slashed $100 million from the CSIRO, much of it from climate change mitigation and adaptation programs, and spent $24 million on an unproven, expensive technology.

Subsidising Massive Coal Companies Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Glencore is a massive, multinational commodities company that made a $10.5 billion profit last year. So why exactly are Australian taxpayers giving them millions of dollars to experiment with carbon capture and storage? The grant will be used to test whether or not it’s viable to inject carbon dioxide emissions from a nearby coal fired power plant deep underground. The Group Executive for Glencore’s global coal business, who also happens to be Chairman of the World Coal Association, is absolutely stoked.

“The Project highlights the important role Australia is playing in developing innovative, practicable and scientifically sound solutions” he said in a press release. Though when you think about it there’s nothing particularly innovative, practical or scientifically sound about spending millions of dollars trying to bury carbon dioxide underground.

Regardless of the wider context, spending tens of millions of dollars on an unproven technology would be a very silly thing to do. But in the face of massive funding cuts to the CSIRO and environment programs more generally, it’s particularly dumb and reckless. We know how to reduce emissions: we need to invest in renewable energy. Australia is the sunniest country on Earth but solar power only makes up 2.4 percent of our energy mix.

This latest announcement makes the government’s priorities perfectly clear. Despite all of Malcolm Turnbull’s talk about innovation and creating jobs in new industries, he’s choosing to cut the CSIRO, the organisation that gave us Wi-Fi, in order to fund an old industry like coal. The rest of the world is making the switch to renewables. We desperately need to catch up before we get left behind, and we can’t do that if we’re paying companies like Glencore and Shell to literally bury our emissions underground.