We at Coal Action Network have a vision for Aotearoa: that we are coal-free by 2027. We’ve arrived at this date as it’s when all the current coal mines in operation around the country will reach their end date.
It doesn’t include new mines such as Bathurst’s plans for the beautiful Dennison Plateau, where operations have stalled and 29 workers were recently laid off as the coal price has plummeted in the face of a global oversupply.
But imagine if the Government was to draw a line in the sand and state that there would be no more coal mines in Aotearoa. If they did that today, this would give coal mining communities the time to adjust, to plan a transition away from coal that involved the entire community, and led to a sustainable future.
This is the argument we set out in our new “Jobs After Coal” report, released today.
Our research has found that New Zealand’s coal mining communities generally have fewer full time jobs and lower per capita income than their surrounding region or district.
This is totally contrary to the coal industry’s claims of employment and prosperity. Only two mining communities in the entire country have higher median incomes than their surrounding district and only one has higher employment.
It’s clear that coal does not bring the promised prosperity from digging up coal, coal that will ultimately end up in the sky when it’s burned, contributing to arguably the most pressing issue facing the world today: climate change.
In our report we outline ways in which communities can transition away from coal to new sources of prosperity and jobs as international markets and climate change concerns lead the phase out of coal.
Coal is a boom and bust industry. When the bust comes, coal mining communities have been left with no support – except for plans for more boom and bust coal mines. Over the last few years we’ve seen so many jobs lost, overnight, with families and communities thrown into chaos and facing an uncertain future.
In gathering information for our report, we called every single coalmine in the country, to find out just how many people are employed. The final figure is 1259 jobs.
Yet the Government continues to go on about the need for coal mining jobs, pushing coal as a job creator, yet it barely blinks at the nearly 40,000 jobs lost in manufacturing in the five years to 2012.
The international situation, with record-low coal prices, and an oversupply, with countries like China and India moving to renewable energy and to cut pollution, our coal industry is unlikely to recover any time soon.
Talk of a carbon bubble is now gaining traction as people begin to understand the idea that we have only a small ‘budget’ of carbon we can afford to emit to keep global warming below two degrees C.
Coal is a sunset industry, and fossil fuel investments will be left as stranded assets
We could pretty much consider Solid Energy as a ‘stranded asset’ these days, with banks forced to back a company that will continue to fail under the ongoing ‘perfect storm’ of low prices and the high dollar.
Over the last week we’ve seen two institutions move to divest themselves from fossil fuel interests: the Dunedin City Council – and the Anglican Church’s New Zealand and Pacific Dominion – the first branch of the Anglican church worldwide to do so.
Jobs After Coal sets out many alternatives to mining, especially in renewable energy and an expanded use of wood. Mining skills are applicable over a wide range of different industries. However, this transition will not happen without planning, leadership, resources, and involvement of the whole community.
We have to draw a line in the sand for the end of coal in New Zealand, then plan for the day that this happens. Involve the whole community and plan a transition that doesn’t dump people out of jobs overnight.
The sooner we prepare for a future where mining towns can determine their own paths without dependence on the vagaries of a dying industry, the better.