UPDATE: Coal mining company Solid Energy has been put into 'voluntary administration' as the global coal industry collapses under the demand to reduce pollution. The Government's failure to plan for a fossil fuel free future will ultimately lead to more jobs losses affecting Kiwi families up and down New Zealand. Our full response.

Last week, Genesis, the company that runs Huntly Power Station, announced it was shutting down its smoke-belching, coal-fired boilers as competition from cheaper power like wind and solar is making it too expensive to run.

This is good news for our health and the future of our children, and an important step towards taking the pollution out of our economy.

But while we herald this as a victory for common sense and necessary to safeguard our planet, we must not forget that this decision will affect people’s livelihoods and families.

Small communities up and down the country have long mined for coal, and the industry has played an important part in the survival of these local economies.

However, the reality is that that the coal industry has been in steady decline for a decade, mostly because consumers are demanding cleaner air and want to see action on climate change. As a recent Bloomberg article summed up, Old King Coal is dying of natural causes: Market forces, dramatic advances in technology and the need to reduce pollution have all made clean energy more attractive and a driver in job creation.

And it’s these factors that were behind the decision by Genesis to switch off their coal fired boilers: It had nothing to do with any Government policy, as some folks in the Beehive tried to claim.

Globally, Key’s recent pitiful offer to reduce pollution has been panned by experts as being ‘inadequate’. In fact, if the rest of the world followed his example, be assured we would end up going to hell in a handcart.

But the fact that the world is turning its back on coal shouldn’t really be news to anyone, least of all Key’s Government.

Four years ago world leading climate scientist Dr James Hansen wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to abandon his plans for expanding coal mining in New Zealand because of the effect it would have on our climate. He argued that New Zealand should instead develop its “natural bounty of renewable energies and energy efficiency”.

Yet, since it once ludicrously described coal as “sexy” after announcing that mining had a “rosy future”, the Key government has continued to ignore the warnings and has instead chosen to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers cash trying to build a pollution based economy. In doing so, it has epically failed to plan for a future without fossil fuels.

And this failure is now being felt keenly by ordinary, hard-working Kiwis.

It is nothing short of negligent that John Key, Simon Bridges, Stephen Joyce and their mates in government are wilfully ignoring the rapid changes in the global energy markets and the effect it will have on Kiwis.

To date, Key has failed to even start the conversation on coal, despite the fact that with the collapse of Solid Energy and the fall in demand for coal in China, mines along the West Coast are closing, resulting in huge job losses. No: Instead that conversation has been left to clean energy advocates like the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), who are reaching out to affected communities in order to start planning for life after coal.

A CANA report puts forward new economic options for the region, with a focus on the development of a biofuel industry, micro power generation, construction targeted at retrofitting homes with modern insulation and heritage tourism based on the West Coast's special features.

These are all investments that have a future.

Our own assessment of the job creation opportunities in New Zealand shows that creating an economy based on clean energy and technologies could create tens of thousands of jobs and a multibillion dollar boost to the economy.

It is a constructive and overdue conversation, but it is one that should be led by the government.

On winning a third term as Prime Minister, Key told the nation he would “lead a government that will govern for all New Zealanders”. He promised to “leave the country in better shape” than he found it.

This means cleaning up the economy, protecting the air we breathe and making sure that as we move to a smarter and safer future, no one gets left behind.