Making the future plausible? Putting coal industry claims in context

by Rod Campbell and Bill Browne

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released a new advertising campaign titled ‘Making the future possible’. The campaign involves two videos and a website promoting mining’s role in the Australian economy and the benefits of new coal-fired electricity generators. However, some claims are incorrect and many are misleading, being presented without context and conflating coal with the wider mining industry.

  • The “future tech” supercritical power stations that the MCA sees as a “game changer for coal” have been in existence since the 1950s.
  • The 4 “supercritical” power plants in Australia have far higher emissions than renewables or gas-fired power. Industry groups say no more will be built.
  • The MCA claims that Australian coal exports will be needed in 1,142 “planned or proposed” coal-fired generators. They ignore that 163 of these have recently been cancelled and many others are unlikely to be built.
  • Coal is a small employer in Australia. ABS data shows coal accounts for just 0.3% of employment. 99.7% of Australians don’t work in the coal industry.
  • 100% of the MCA’s ads star women. Female employment in Australian coal peaked in 2008 at 15.9%. Since then it has declined to a current rate of 9.5%.
  • While mining is a large exporter, only 9% of Australia’s exports are thermal coal. 80% of the coal industry is foreign owned, meaning that profits are largely exported too.
  • As the mining industry claims to have paid $177 billion in taxes and royalties in the last decade, only a fraction would relate to thermal coal. If accurate, this represents just 4.2% of Australian governments’ $4.125 trillion in revenue over this period.
  • MCA figures show that the mining industry spends half of one percent of turnover on training. While claiming to “underpin higher education”, MCA figures suggest its members contributed 0.009% of the higher education budget, beyond tax and royalty payments, far lower than the training subsidies they received.
  • If the world adopts policies to limit climate change to two degrees, coal will account for 20% of Asian electricity in 2040, not 63% as implied by the MCA.

What kind of future is made possible by the MCA and the thermal coal industry? One of rampant climate change. In the meantime, their multinational members make a small contribution to Australia’s employment, budgets and education. To top it off, their gender balance is declining. It is not surprising these facts are not included in their advertising.

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