Why would Fonterra spend several million dollars on a process lasting nearly a year, seeking planning consent for a huge new milk drier that it knows will never be built? Perhaps that’s not a lot of money to them – after all, one million is only three months’ salary for their CEO.
Fonterra’s proposed Studholme project, just outside of Waimate in South Canterbury, would see two new spray driers powered by two immense coal boilers – one 65MW, the other 50.
This is the biggest new coal burning project in the country, with the hearing happening just as our Minister for Climate Change is about to travel to New York to sign the Paris agreement where we undertook to reduce our greenhouse emissions a totally inadequate 11% below 1990 levels. (It’s even more inadequate when creative accounting turns this into more like +10%).
Last week was a bad week for coal mines on the West Coast.
Early in the week Solid Energy announced 24 workers would lose their jobs from the Stockton mine, and by the end of the week Bathurst announced that it is putting the Denniston mine on hold, laying off 12 workers – terrible news for those workers and their families.
At the heart of this is the same issue that sent Solid Energy under: plummeting coking coal prices – a price that has continued to fall, and was again cited as the reason for Solid’s new layoffs.
Over on the Denniston Plateau, Bathurst’s woes have stemmed, in the first instance, from the long-signalled closure of the Holcim plant in Westport, its biggest client. Bathurst has had to seek domestic buyers for its high grade coking coal, because of the low international price.
As the country reeled with the news last week that Solid Energy had gone into administration with a $300m debt, another event was happening in the Pacific that puts the debate in a context that it too seldom receives in New Zealand.
On Thursday, Kiribati Prime Minister Anote Tong wrote to world leaders calling for a moratorium on new coalmines.
“Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines. lt would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” he wrote.
“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions NOW will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical.”
UK Economist Sir Nicholas Stern agreed: “The use of coal is simply bad economics, unless one refuses to count as a cost the damages and deaths now and in the future from air pollution and climate change,” he told Reuters (Stern’s full statement here).
In June, Pope Francis said in his encyclical that the use of “highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
Another year, another climate COP, and a few more faltering baby steps toward trying to limit global climate change. But this time coal was in charge and it showed. I’ve been to enough of these meetings to know that there isn’t going to be One Big Event that will Suddenly Save the Climate, Just Like That. This was the problem with Copenhagen, a meeting that, frankly, was never going to do the job and where expectations were too high.
But every year, as emissions accumulate in the atmosphere and new, fossil-fuel-fired infrastructure is built, and new scientific discoveries are made, the more important these meetings get.
While Warsaw wasn’t going to get a Big Deal, it was an extremely important stepping stone toward the 2015 agreement which will be the closest thing to the One Big Event we’ll have seen in at least a decade, if not longer (since Kyoto?).
As one colleague said to me on the night the talks ended: “we got some things, and we lost less than we thought we would. But it wasn’t a major breakthrough, not with the amount of damage control we had to do.”
So what did we get at the end of those frenetic two weeks?
I’m not sure if the Polish Government really meant this to happen.
In the run-up to the climate talks, they had scurried round and found a bunch of largely fossil fuel and car sponsors to help them out. Thanks to these sponsors, we’ve all been given coal-coloured bags with a big oil service company logo on it. Such a contrast from Durban where we had lovely cloth bags made from recycled fabric, made by people from villages across South Africa.
But in Warsaw today, he Polish Government and the coal industry must have been so pleased with their idea of setting up the World Coal Association “Coal Summit” at the same time as the climate talks. They even managed to persuade the UN Climate Convention’s Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to speak at it, much to the fury of the youth, whose invitation she turned down.