Fonterra Climate Crime

The guest editorial titled 'Year of silly advice on climate change' and published in the Otago Daily Times earlier this week was never going to deal to the arguments around fossil fuels with a balanced hand - after all, the author Chris Baker represents the interests of the minerals sector.

But to argue that coal is the solution to climate change would have to be one of the most bizarre claims ever made in the interests of making a buck - on a par with the one about smoking being good for your health.

It is the use of fossil fuels that is driving the climate crisis. Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels there are, in terms of emissions, and because of its wide use is one of the major causes of climate change. It is certainly not the solution, and nor is it a "transition fuel", (confusingly, Baker claims it is both).   

Any discussion of the use of fossil fuels has to be framed by what we know will happen very soon if we don't stop using them.

But why take Greenpeace's (an independent campaign group, with no agenda other than a future for the planet and its people) word for it? Climate scientist James Hansen, the director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, describes coal as "the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet".

New Zealand, like every other country on the planet, must do all it can to reduce its use of fossil fuels. That way, officials such as the Minister Responsible for International Climate Change Negotiations, Tim Groser, who will soon be travelling to Washington, will be better able to persuade other countries to cut theirs.

What Mr Baker's arithmetic on the economics of the demand for coal does not take into account is that coal has had its day. It is a dirty hangover from the 19th century, and as such has no part in the 21st century. As the world's governments belatedly move to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels, the imposed costs of coal, as well as the environmental costs, will escalate. A 'business as usual' approach to the issue will only lead to commercial failure in a low-carbon future.

Chris Baker used Fonterra to make his case for continuing to dig for coal. Great choice. Fonterra could easily burn biomass in its dehydrators, a point made by Greenpeace when our activists delivered a truckload of biomasss to Fonterra's Edendale plant. Workers at the plant told us that the plant had used biomass in the past, and so it is safe to assume that it could again.

Rather than just doing its bit for the planet, Fonterra would also be helping itself if it gave up on coal. New Zealand's clean green image moves product - fact. But there is nothing clean or green about coal, and as the world's consumers start to look more and more at the carbon footprint created by what they buy, Fonterra will have no choice but to print the details of how much carbon went into a product's manufacture on its packaging.  

Besides adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the development of new supplies of fossil fuels delays the essential uptake of non-fossil energy supplies, as it keeps the price of hydrocarbons down while ensuring that the value of cleaner investments remains uncertain. And, by declaring open season on our oil and coal reserves, the Government is damaging our reputation and ability to build an economy fit for the 21st century.

Since 2005, investment in clean technologies has grown 230 per cent, resisting the global financial crisis better than any other sector. In 2009, US$162 billion was invested in clean energy around the world, eclipsing the investment in fossil fuels for a second year running.

What the Government must do now is develop the vision needed to drive this transition to a cleaner future, and understand the opportunities on offer. For example, China, the US and the UK have all adopted national renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, feed-in tariffs, carbon reduction targets and/or financial incentives for investment and production, and are therefore leading the clean energy sector. Other nations wanting to compete effectively for clean energy jobs and manufacturing will have to do the same.

There are a wealth of clean technology companies in New Zealand already pioneering new technologies - such as Designline International, who sell their revolutionary hybrid turbine buses all over the world; Windflow Technology, who are designing some of the world's most efficient wind turbine technologies; and HTS 110, who are designing world class, super efficient systems for transmitting renewable energy.

We already know the energy potential of the sun, winds, and tides. And we know what the burning of fossil fuels is doing to our planet. The idea of somehow capturing carbon as coal is burnt, and that as such it has a future, is fairy talk, and is just a dangerous distraction from the urgent task of saving the world, and building a strong, future-proofed economy.  

- Simon Boxer, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace New Zealand