Time to plan for the future

In 2007 the Centre for Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle published a report into “A Just Transition to a renewable energy economy” as a contribution to the debate about how to manage the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy. The report aimed to stimulate a conversation about how to use policy to manage the future transition in a proactive way.

Eight years later, it is clear that Local, State and Federal Governments have failed to plan for a disruptive transition that is now taking place – regardless of government policy. Rapid technological improvements, combined with economies of scale and innovations in finance, are driving a renewable energy revolution faster than most people thought possible. At the same time, the global imperative to reduce greenhouse pollution coupled with acute pollution problems in China and other countries is driving regulation that is reinforcing the market shift that is already well and truly under way.

The tide of history has turned and the transition is upon us. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, coal-mining jobs in Australia are down 17,000 since 2012, representing roughly ¼ of all employees. The closure of Alinta’s coal power station in Port Augusta, following hot on the heels of the closure of the Angelsea power station in Victoria, are but the beginning of an economic disruption that has a long way to run.

In 2011, Peabody was the largest privately owned coal company in the world with a market capitalisation of US$18bn. Today, their share price is down 95% and their market capitalisation has shrunk to US$730m. With over US$5bn of debt and massive unfunded pension and rehabilitation liabilities, this raises serious concerns about their viability. They are facing legal action by employees who claim that Peabody failed to exercise their fiduciary duties by investing employee pensions in Peabody shares – shredding the value of retirement savings. It is a dramatic fall from grace that is symbolic of the fortunes of an industry that was once a shining light of innovation and future prosperity.

In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy having dominated the global photography industry for over 30 years. Peabody, and indeed the wider coal industry, is facing its ‘Kodak moment’. Policymakers have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to plan for the transition to ensure that coal dependent communities are supported and environmental remediation responsibilities are met. The problem isn’t going to go away and the longer we wait, the harder it will be to manage.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

Last month, more than 270 people came together on the traditional land of the Yuggera people in South East Queensland for Protecting our Heritage. Embracing the Future  —  the 2014 national Beyond Coal and Gas gathering.  It was a wonderful crowd from right across Australia, plus international speakers from the Marshall Islands, India and the US.

Over 3 intense days, participants shared their stories from the front-lines of coal and gas expansion and spent long hours learning and planning together.  There were also plenty of moments filled with serious fun!  For many, it was exciting to catch up with old friends and inspiring to meet new faces.

The connections made and ideas shared at the gathering will help to carry the movement onwards and upwards over the coming year.

Huge thanks are due to everyone who ran workshops, spoke on a panel, volunteered or shared their ideas in open space sessions and informal discussions.

To see some of the beautiful images taken at the gathering by photographer Dean Sewell, visit the Beyond Coal and Gas Image Library.

We’re immensely proud to be part of this powerful and passionate movement.  So here’s to another massive year for Australian communities working to protect our heritage and embrace a future beyond coal and gas.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

We are counting down to Protecting our heritage. Embracing the future — the second Beyond Coal and Gas national gathering — on 24-27th October, just outside Brisbane.

Places are limited, so get in quick and register to reserve your place!

It has been a huge year for the campaign to move Australia beyond coal and gas, with the movement growing from strength to strength across the country. The national gathering is a chance to bring people together from all over Australia, to reflect, to share stories and experiences, to learn from one another and to plan how to take the movement to the next level.

It’s also an opportunity to hear from inspiring speakers, with thought leaders from Australia and around the world on the program. US based solar entrepreneur Danny Kennedy, the founder of Sungevity, and Dr Anne Poelina, a Nyikina Traditional Owner from the Mardoowarra, Lower Fitzroy River will be there, with plenty more great speakers to come.

The energy and collaborations that came from the gathering at Kurri Kurri last year really helped to galvanise the movement, something we will build on to strengthen the movement even further this year. As well as a great lineup of speakers, top-notch trainers and expert workshop presenters, a large part of the program will be set by participants.

You can see the draft program in progress here.

We want to make sure that you have the conversations that are important to you, so when you register, take the opportunity to nominate a session.

Protecting our heritage. Embracing the future will be held at the beautiful Ivory’s Rock on the traditional lands of the Yuggera people, an easy 1-hour from the Brisbane CBD via public transport.

Places are limited, so please register at www.beyondcoalandgas.org and pass the invitation on through your networks. The 2014 Protecting our heritage. Embracing the future: Beyond Coal and Gas gathering will be a key moment in the movement’s history and we want you to help create it.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

Our First Annual Report

Today, we’re proud to be releasing our first Annual Report, which tells just some of the stories from our first year and a half of operation.

It has been a momentous and challenging time. For many of us who are deeply concerned about climate change, the denialism, stop-start policies and power-politics of vested interest groups over the last few years has been pretty depressing. To make things worse, while our elected representatives have delayed taking action to cut greenhouse pollution, they have also allowed the destruction of many of the most important assets that will be needed for our community to be resilient to a changing climate – clean water, good farmland and healthy ecosystems.

Over-reach by mining and gas companies at the peak of the boom saw an open-slather approach to regulation with companies being given the green light to trample both the natural environment and the rights of local communities from one end of the country to the other. You only have to fly over the Hunter Valley to understand the impact of this resource scramble.

The understandable backlash has seen farmers, tourism operators, fishing communities, conservationists, doctors, religious leaders and climate scientists, and a wide variety of community groups and NGOs, raising their voices to speak up for their environment, communities and jobs, and to oppose the reckless expansion of the Australian coal and gas industries.

This is the context in which The Sunrise Project has begun its work: the emergence of the biggest, most vibrant and most diverse social movement that Australia has seen for many years.

For many of these communities involved, they didn’t make a conscious choice to get involved in a conflict with a multinational mining or gas company.  They are just doing whatever they can to protect their property, their farm, their community, their livelihood. And they just want it to be over with. Over the past few years there have been two refrains that I’ve heard over and over again: “I just wish they’d go away and leave us in peace” and “I’m not a greenie but…”.

The Sunrise Project has taken a Collective Impact approach to supporting these genuinely disparate grassroots social movements, working with them to build common ground between local and global, environmental, social and economic concerns. Collective Impact recognises that social change is not a linear process and that many of society’s most difficult problems are complex and cannot be addressed by single organisations acting alone. It draws on the wisdom of local communities that are impacted by the problem and it recognises that through co-operation, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts.

We are grateful for all of the generous support we have received and are humbled by the generosity, wisdom and the passion of so many people around Australia who are standing up to protect the places they love.

We look forward to continuing our work with the community to build a better future.

You can read our Annual Report here.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

The muscle of the coal industry’s lobbying machine was flexed last month with the launch of the latest industry-coordinated PR campaign “Australians for Coal”, pleading the case for ongoing support of the industry in the face of a market slump and increasing community opposition. It takes considerable funds to reach both the halls of power and millions of lounge rooms at prime-time, but the release of the Minerals Council of Australia’s (MCA) Annual Report this week reveals the huge amount of money being spent to push Big Coal’s case. A best-guess estimate is that in the last two years Australia’s coal industry has spent the best part of $100 million attempting to defend its increasingly tattered social licence.

Renewable power and energy efficiency are eroding profitability in the domestic coal power sector and undermining demand in key markets such as China, but Australia’s coal lobby shows no sign of acknowledging that times have changed.

If Australians are looking for an explanation as to why coal-belt states and the federal government are bending over backwards to support the industry, despite the increasing outcry at the damage the industry does to Australia’s land and water resources, and the global climate, the single biggest reason is the sheer scale of Big Coal’s largely behind-the-scenes lobbying machine. As growing farmer and community opposition, tough market conditions and political scandals rapidly undermine its standing, the industry appears to be cranking up its PR machine.

The coal lobby’s muddy footprints litter Australia’s political landscape. Wherever there are moves to promote renewable energy, put a price on the heavy costs of carbon pollution or ensure legal protections for landowners, the coal industry’s lobbyists are there to put a stop to any changes that would threaten their protected status.

As the coal industry has grown, the coal industry lobby groups’ coffers have filled. Between them, according to their annual reports, the MCA, the New South Wales Minerals Council (NSWMC) and the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) had a combined income of over $103 million over the last two years to press the case for their members, which have increasingly been coal companies.

The biggest of all the lobby groups is the MCA, which in the last two years alone had income of over $58 million and boasts a roll call of over 39 staff. The state-based mining lobby groups contribute further political firepower and cash. In the last two years the QRC has spent $22 million while the NSW Minerals Council spent another $20 million promoting their members’ interests. In both states, coal mining is the main mining game by a big margin.

The oil and gas industry’s peak lobby group, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), is another major industry lobby group promoting fossil fuels. In the last two years APPEA spent $37.1 million promoting the industry’s pro-oil and gas agenda of which over $11 million went to promoting and defending coal seam gas projects in New South Wales and Queensland.

Traditionally, the coal lobby groups overwhelmingly represented the big multinational players in the global coal industry. For example, of the MCA’s 12-person Board of Directors, five directors represent companies with massive coal export interests: BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata Coal Australia, Anglo American and Peabody Energy.

In recent times coal lobby groups were boosted by the arrival of new Indian, Chinese, Thai and other companies. For example, some of the QRC’s newest members are the Indian companies GVK and Adani Mining which are proposing controversial mega-mines in the Galilee Basin and associated port facilities adjoining the Great Barrier Reef. While the three big lobby groups also represent companies which mine other commodities, in the coal-belt states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland the other sectors are comparative minnows.

Like most industry lobby groups, they hire well-connected former insiders. For example, the NSWMC’s CEO Stephen Galilee formerly worked as chief of staff for the new NSW Premier Mike Baird. To bolster its in-house lobbying muscle the NSWMC has hired Premier State Consulting, a lobbying firm headed by former NSW Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Photios.

On top of tens of millions spent directly by industry lobby groups the major companies spend millions more on their own lobbying efforts and millions more still on PR, advertising campaigns and community sponsorship.

All up it is a fair bet that the Australian coal industry has spent well over $100 million in the last two years on its lobbying and PR campaigns as its seeks to smooth the way for damaging new coal projects and protect existing ones. As money spent by companies on lobbying is a tax-deductible expense, indirectly Australian taxpayers end up subsidising the coal lobby.

Despite their massive investments in PR the coal lobby must be increasingly aware of the fragility of their social licence. This was made starkly clear when the ‘Australians for Coal’ campaign not only failed to enthuse supporters to take to social media but saw regular twitter users overrun the industry’s #australiansforcoal hashtag with examples of the industry’s poor track record of environmental and social harm. Just as the asbestos and tobacco industries once enjoyed widespread public support, the coal industry would do well to remember that when the negative impacts of an industry outweigh the benefits, money alone can’t buy community support forever.

Read the published article in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Bob Burton is a Contributing Editor of CoalSwarm and a Director of the Sunrise Project. In 2013, with Guy Pearse and David McKnight, he co-authored Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email


The Sunrise Project re-grants funds to organisations working in line with our mission.

Through the Peter Gray Community Action Fund, we are able to provide grants of up to $5,000 to community groups working to protect the environment in the areas of climate, energy and extractive industries.

For more information about the priorities of the fund and how to apply, please click here for further information.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

Movement building

Throughout history, social movements have achieved remarkable advances in social justice, equality and environmental protections. But powerful movements don’t happen by accident. They need nurturing.


We help to build the capacity of a wide range of organisations that share our mission. As well as providing funding support, we provide strategic advice and analysis and play a convening and connecting role to broaden and strengthen networks, and to support different organisations to work together. We also support training programs for community leaders.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

The election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister of Australia has been a long time coming. For those of us that care deeply about the need for action to limit global warming, it has been like watching a slow motion train wreck, with the bipartisan consensus for climate action strewn amongst the wreckage.

In his acceptance speech as Prime Minister elect, Tony Abbott declared, “Australia is open for business” and he made it clear that his first actions in the top job would be to abolish both the carbon tax and the mining super profits tax. Andrew Robb announced that the new Coalition Government would be re-starting the mining boom. It is as if the new Government will take us back to the good old days when foreign investment flooded to our shores and Australia had a clear place in the world as the quarry for the endless Asian growth miracle.

You can’t fault them for ambition or optimism but the tide of history might have other ideas. An awful lot has changed in the six years since a Coalition Prime Minister was last in the Lodge. Navigating a prosperous and safe course for the Australian economy is never an easy task, but it is made even more difficult when you are using an outdated map.

Abbott and co. seem to have failed to grasp the simple yet increasingly obvious reality that there is now a powerful and unstoppable structural shift that is underway in global energy markets. The clean energy revolution is happening – regardless of whether they want it to or not.

When John Howard so gracefully left the Lodge in 2007, Australia had roughly 8,000 solar rooftops. Now, the number has jumped to over 1 million. Over 2.6 million Australians from all walks of life (and from all sides of the political divide) get their energy direct from the sun. This in turn, has created over 16,000 jobs in the Australian solar industry.

For many, the decision to go solar comes down to simple economics. Solar power is the best way to isolate yourself from ever rising electricity costs. While electricity costs from our aging fleet of coal generators continues to rise, the price of solar continues to fall dramatically. In 2007, solar panels cost roughly $12/watt compared to less than $3/watt now – a fall of over 75%. This trend is set continue due to economies of scale and ongoing rapid technological innovation.

And Australians aren’t the only ones embracing clean energy. Only a few years ago it was common knowledge that the ‘resources super cycle’ was going to last forever with China and India buying as much Australian coal as we could dig up.  But it is now clear that China, despite its massive coal use, is slowly but surely making headway in the transition to a clean economy, driven in large part by politically potent health and pollution issues. And the Indian coal sector is in serious trouble because, in a nutshell, they can’t afford the price of imported coal.

Citi Group recently jointed a growing line of global banks including Deutche and Goldman Sachs in publishing reports describing the structural decline of coal, driven in large part by the actions of China. Perhaps the most compelling analysis is the recent Bernstein Research recent report titled “Asian Coal & Power: Less, Less, Less…The Beginning of the End of Coal”. In it, the authors note… ‘by our estimates, China will cease to import coal in 2015 and will see a decline in coal consumption in absolute terms in 2016…’.

It is clear that the world is changing. Coal is in structural decline globally with major implications for Australian coal exporters. Andrew Robb can’t just re-start a boom just by wishing it into being. Tony Abbott can rail against clean energy all he likes but at some point, economics will trump ideology.

Scrapping the carbon tax will no doubt set back Australia’s clean energy transformation. It will cost jobs, it will lead to more pollution and more health impacts from coal in the Hunter and Latrobe Valleys than would otherwise be the case. But not even Tony Abbott can hold back the tide of history.

We don’t use typewriters anymore either.

John Hepburn
Executive Director
The Sunrise Project

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

By Bob Burton

When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Saturday (Australian time) that any new coal fired power station must be fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, you would have thought the coal industry would have been ecstatic.

After all, for years the coal industry has been the biggest cheerleader for CCS, a technology for extracting carbon dioxide from coal-fired power station emissions and dumping it underground. When critics of CCS such as Greenpeace argued that the technology was unproven and mega-expensive, the coal industry disagreed.

But now Big Coal just can’t seem to get its story straight about whether it loves or hates CCS.
Instead of celebrating the US EPA’s announcement, the US coal industry is outraged. Peabody Energy, which has mines in both Australia and the US, thundered that CCS “is simply not commercially available”. The National Mining Association complained of “potential high cost” for such “theoretical systems.”

“Carbon capture is a pipe dream”, said FreedomWorks, the influential right wing think tank that is credited with forming the Tea Party and is one of Big Coal’s noisiest backers.

“Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible,” said Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, who represents the coal state West Virginia in Washington and is its former governor.
Industry threats of legal challenges are flying thick and fast.

The impact of the new rule is likely to be minimal as most of the over 230 new coal plants proposed in the US over the last decade have been defeated by community opposition or withered from financial pressures.

While the electricity market has largely moved on from building new coal plants, the EPA announcement is a bold marker that it is likely to be all downhill for the US coal industry from here. With the accelerating retirement of old coal plants in response to legal challenges and strong opposition to new coal export ports, the US coal industry is besieged.

The US coal industry opposition to the new EPA rule puts the Australian coal industry in an impossible position.

When in 2009 the Australian Coal Association (ACA) was opposing the emissions trading scheme proposed by Kevin Rudd, it blitzed Australia with advertisements proclaiming that CCS was a “practical solution” which “can make a real difference.”

In March 2012 Megan Davison, the executive director of the Victorian division of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), went so far as to claim that ‘clean coal’ technologies could happen “in the blink of an eye.” The ACA and MCA both represent companies such as Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton which – either directly or via their industry associations – are now ridiculing CCS in the US.

If CCS is the expensive fantasy the US mining lobby insists it is then the Australian coal industry’s PR cover for coal exports has been blown. The message is clear: CCS will do nothing anytime soon to curb the global warming contribution from Australia’s growing coal exports. And for Treasurer Joe Hockey it just became a whole lot easier to end taxpayer handouts for further R&D work on CCS.

This article was first published on Renew Economy.

Bob Burton is co-author with Guy Pearse and David McKnight of Big Coal: Australia’s dirtiest habit (NewSouth Books, August 2013). He is also a Contributing Editor of CoalSwarm, a coal wiki and a director of The Sunrise Project. You can follow his Twitter feed here.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

The Sunrise Project has developed the Beyond Coal and Gas Image Library.   The library is a collection of high-quality photographs, infographics and cartoons, tailored for the needs of those working to protect land, water, health, community and climate from the impacts of coal and gas, and hasten the inevitable transition to a clean energy future.

Have you ever wanted to show the impacts of a coal mine or the beauty of a threatened rural landscape? Putting together a flyer or a web post and can’t find the right image? Pitching to media and need to convey the story of coal and gas with a powerful visual?  This Flikr-based image library is a resource at your disposal – full of free, high quality and available images.

Thanks to the support and input of a range of contributors, we are launching the image library with over 200 photos. You can check it out here.

To use the image library, click on the set most likely to have the kind of image you are looking for. Scroll through the images and download the one that takes your fancy.You can also search using tags. To do that, go to this link and click on the tag that you want to search for. You can also click on a tag while looking at a photo, to see all photos that share that tag.Please note that to ensure that we can keep building this asset, you will need to credit the photos you use —  each photo has its own instructions.

A big thank you to Lock the Gate, Beyond Zero Emissions, Greenpeace, Australian Conservation Foundation, Jeremy Buckingham MLC and the Australian Greens, Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance, Rivers SOS and 100% Renewable for their inaugural donations to get this going.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email