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Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 4, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. (Photo: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

As World Burns, Morrison Says Australia's Sticking With Coal

"Of course we'll keep on mining."

Andrea Germanos

Defying a "code red" warning about the climate crisis and sustained pressure to take urgent action on the planetary emergency, the conservative government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday vowed to continue coal mining.

Asked at a press conference whether his government would put a time limit on the coal industry, Morrison responded that the mining sector is "absolutely critical to Australia's future. And we'll keep on mining. Of course we'll keep on mining."

Pressed about coal specifically, Morrison said that the nation would "keep mining the resources that we're able to sell on the world market. Now, we obviously anticipate that over time, world demand for these things may change."

Australia's Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt also doubled down on coal this week, declaring that it has a future in the country "well beyond 2030."

“The reality," Pitt said in a Thursday statement, "is that global demand for Australian coal is increasing and forecast to continue rising into the next decade at least."

"The latest science, and extreme floods, fires, and heatwaves being experienced here and around the world, tell us climate change is accelerating."—Australian civil society groups

He further touted the unproven ability of carbon capture and storage technology to mitigate coal's climate impact, asserted that coal exported to Asia is "creating economic and social opportunities for millions of people," and said industry royalties and taxes would help the economic recovery from the pandemic. 

The ministers' comments came as a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature estimated that 90% of the world's coal must remain in the ground in order to have a 50% shot at meeting a 1.5°C target limit of warming.

The remarks also came amid a push directed at Australia from United Nations Special Adviser on Climate Change Selwin Hart for Australia to ditch coal.

"We fully understand the role that coal and other fossil fuels have played in Australia's economy, even if mining accounts for a small fraction—around 2%—of overall jobs," Hart said in a pre-recorded speech to an Australian National University forum held Monday. "But it's essential to have a broader, more honest and rational conversation about what is in Australia's interests."

"We are at a critical juncture in the climate crisis," he added, warning that failure to change business-as-usual approaches to energy "will soon send Australia's high living standards up in flames."

The Morrison government has also faced pressure from advocacy groups to stop propping up fossil fuels. 

In a joint statement last month, a diverse collection of groups including Australia's Climate Council and the Australian Marine Conservation Society said that "there is no 'safe' level of global warming."

"Already, at a global average temperature rise of 1.2°C, we're experiencing more powerful storms, destructive marine and land heatwaves, and a new age of megafires," the groups said. "The latest science, and extreme floods, fires, and heatwaves being experienced here and around the world, tell us climate change is accelerating."

"Our response," the groups said, "must match the scale and urgency of this worsening crisis."

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