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Mines and wines in Australia climate battle

Heavy rain drenches the Ashton colliery near Ravensworth in the Hunter Valley on July 28, 2010. As Australia’s government battles to find a credible action plan against global warming, residents of the famous winegrowing region of the Hunter Valley find themselves living among coal mines and smoke-belching powerplants. Photo courtesy AFP.

Stiglitz addresses climate change, mining
Sydney (UPI) Jul 29, 2010 - Australia needs to do more on climate change and have an adequate mining tax, says a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, said Australia was in danger of lagging behind Europe in the development of low-carbon technologies with its wait-and-see approach for clarity on the global accord on climate change. ''It's really important for Australia to do more, on its own, even though there isn't a global agreement to embrace,'' Stiglitz said. The Nobel laureate, on a speaking tour with The Economic Society of Australia, stressed the need for a higher price on carbon even if the science isn't absolutely certain.

European economies, he said, are developing technologies in pursuit of a less carbon-intensive future but Australia, which has the highest per capita of carbon emissions among developed nations, hasn't been doing as much. Stiglitz told the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia could become a victim of the "natural resources curse." ''Countries that have a rich endowment of natural resources often end up with high exchange rates and so, as a result, have difficulty broadening their economy in other areas,'' he said. His remarks came after the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies relaunched an advertising campaign against Australia's proposed mining tax. The super-profits mining tax, introduced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in May, would tax mining profits at 40 percent after reaching a certain level, beginning in 2012.

The government intends to use revenues from the tax to help pay for the country's infrastructure spending and retirement funds as part of a major overhaul. "If you are taking resources out of the country and you are not reinvesting those resources in one way or another -- a stabilization fund, human capital, infrastructure -- then your economy is getting poorer, not richer, and a good accounting framework can show that," he told a University of Queensland audience Monday. AMEC, which represents 240 miners, had ceased its advertising campaign against the mining tax in June "in a gesture of good faith," it said, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who took over from Rudd in June, said that the government was going to open the doors to the mining industry and asked the industry to do the same. Instead, the organization said in a statement, the government has embarked on a "secret deal" three multi-national mining companies, (Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata) "to the exclusion of 99 percent of the industry."
by Staff Writers
Muswellbrook, Australia (AFP) Aug 1, 2010
Australian winemaker Brett Keating doesn't draw a parallel between the shorter, hotter seasons and slow creep of coal mining towards his land, but he is concerned.

"This is a community that's benefited greatly from mining over the years, it's brought a lot of prosperity to the area," he explains.

"We've coexisted with mining for years but in the last couple of years we just feel like the balance has flipped."

His Hunter Valley winery, Two Rivers, just outside Denman north of Sydney, has been in his family for generations, flanked by the World Heritage-listed Wollemi National Park, one of Australia's largest wilderness areas.

But Keating says coal miners are slowly hemming in on the upper Hunter's vineyards, buying growers out for exploration as the industry seeks to keep up with raging global and domestic demand.

"I'm told that the Hunter Valley will double its coal production and existing mining footprint in the next two years," he told AFP.

"We recognise that mining's got to exist and we're not against mining as such, but more mines are creeping closer and we're really concerned about that."

Nowhere are the tensions of Australia's looming environment versus economy election more apparent than in the Hunter, a "wines and mines" region just a few hours from Sydney.

For every three wineries there is one coal mine, and Australia's three largest power stations burn up to 20 million tons of coal every year in the Hunter, supplying several million homes with power.

Australia is the world's worst per capita polluter, and electricity generation accounts for about one-third of the country's greenhouse emissions, which last year reached an equivalent 537 million tonnes of CO2.

Some of the country's biggest coal mines are in the Hunter region, with BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata projects connected by rail to Newcastle Harbour, the world's largest coal export port.

Hundreds of ships leave there every year for Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and India, and Australia is the world's number one exporter of coal, last year accounting for a 28 percent share of the global market.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd won a landslide 2007 election victory on a pro-green platform which saw him ratify the Kyoto Protocol and take a lead role at last year's failed climate talks in Copenhagen.

His decision to shelve an emissions trading scheme which was twice rejected by lawmakers sent his popularity into such a spin the ruling Labor party dumped him in a shock coup favouring his female deputy, Julia Gillard.

Gillard vowed action on a carbon tax when she took office, but was criticised as going soft on climate change with an election policy to seek advice from the community and not act ahead of other major economies.

Hunter-based activist group Rising Tide dumped a truckload of coal outside when Gillard made her first address to the National Press Club as leader, and rejects her claim that there isn't public consensus for climate action.

"I think in the wider Australian community there's a lot more people that are willing to really put themselves on the line and get themselves arrested, mainstream Australians," said Rising Tide's Annika Dean.

"We've organised actions where there's hundreds of people getting arrested, 50 people coming to block a coal train ranging from 80 years old to 20 years old, a really broad age range and broad backgrounds of people."

Fellow activist Ned Haughton said the wider climate change debate had allowed people in the Hunter to start talking about the negative impacts of mining and there was definite momentum for grassroots action.

"This is where the root cause of it all is, and someone has to do something at the source," Haughton said.

A 2009 study into industrial air pollution in the upper Hunter said a "lack of political will and regulatory inertia" had prevented meaningful official action on the health risks of both open-cut mining and coal power generation.

The Newcastle University study also said "interdependence of state government and corporations in reaping the economic benefits of coal production and export" was to blame.

But one of the study's authors, Linda Connor, agreed with Haughton that Hunter residents were becoming more active and demanding greater accountability from the government and corporations on emissions.

"Even if people reject political radicalism, they will mobilise around specific issues of concern ... most notably threats to land, property values and livelihood and health," Connor said.

"The net effect is a sustained shift in civil society. Shifts in political processes will inevitably come from this," she added.

A survey of 7,000 Australians published this week found an overwhelming majority wanted emissions trading plans to start now and without action from other countries, with relatively high emissions cuts to be achieved by 2020.

"We've got such majority public support to start now, not to wait for what China and the US does, to make deep cuts," said survey author Jordan Louviere.

Keating said opinion was divided among winegrowers about whether changes to the region's climate were permanent or part of normal cycles, admitting there was "some scepticism out there in some quarters."

"I think (attitudes) have changed dramatically," he said.

"Everybody's realising that we've got to have a sustainable industry. I think there's recognition that you have to do something."

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