Letter: The National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and Health

22 October 2017


The Hon Mark Butler MP
Member for Port Adelaide
National President of the Australian Labor Party
Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy


Dear Mr Butler,

Re: The National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and Health

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is a national group, representing hundreds of medical experts across Australia. We are supported by a Nobel laureate, recipients of the Australian of the Year award and many other distinguished health professionals.

DEA is appalled by the health implications of the Government’s proposed (NEG) plan. The policy favours coal and gas with their attendant health risks for humanity and the planet, and inhibits and disadvantages investment in the renewable energy industry. The NEG is likely to lead to less than 28-36% renewable energy in the NEM by 2030, less even than business as usual (35%), Finkel’s Clean Energy Target (42%) and Federal Labor’s policy of 50%. In 2030, coal and gas will be 64-72% under the NEG, 58% under Finkel and 39% under Labor.

All Australians appreciate the contribution of miners, power workers and their families, but wish their contribution was not required and that the government had given greater priority to the orderly closure of coal-fired power stations. Failure to make the necessary transition towards renewable energy will cost lives and add to the burden of the already stretched healthcare system.

There are estimated to be 3000 early deaths annually in Australia from air pollution, about half of which result from coal mining and combustion with those in the vicinity suffering most from these adverse risks causing asthma, chronic lung disease, lung cancer, heart attack and stroke. The health costs of pollution in Sydney alone are estimated to be $8.4 B p.a. Much of the pollution in Sydney arises from coal combustion. https://envirojustice.org.au/sites/default/files/files/Submissions%20and%20reports/Envirojustice_air_pollution_report_final.pdf

This international problem is given major prominence and authority by the recently published “The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health”.

Coal burning also adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere whose consequences include: increasing deaths due to heat-stroke in heat-waves, burning in bushfires, drowning in floods and storm surges, injuries in cyclones, infection with warm-weather diseases, suicide in stressed farming communities and more. https://www.dea.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/DEA_Climate_Change__Health_Fact_Sheet_final.pdf
These causes of death may seem remote to many Australians, but they are not abstract ideas to emergency physicians, hospital clinicians and rural practitioners providing first-response care.

Gas has similar risks, is not much less significant as a cause of global warming when the poorly measured fugitive emissions of methane are included, and especially where fracking is required. Added are potential damage to water tables, soil and the environment. Farmer distress and suicide is particularly important with unconventional gas.

The NEG requires the agreement of the states which will be required to legislate to enable this policy. DEA is encouraged by Labor states moving towards a responsible renewable future: SA (>50% renewable energy now), VIC (40% by 2025), QLD (50% by 2030) and ACT has contracts to take it to 100% renewable by 2020.

For a decade DEA has supported bipartisanship on climate policy. However we urge Labor to oppose bipartisanship on this thoroughly bad and cynical proposal, and encourage the states to work together to develop an effective and uniform national state-based policy, as is occurring now in Australia and in many cities and states in the USA since Trump threatened the Paris agreement.

Limiting the reduction to 26% of 2005 energy emissions by 2030 means that transport, manufacturing and agriculture will all have to take a larger part of the emission reduction load to meet Australia’s Paris targets, which is much more difficult to achieve.

Particularly egregious is the suggestion to “back end” emissions reductions to the last years before 2030 and the Paris commitment. Delayed emission reduction will cause more deaths and sickness. There is also an inherent injustice in passing this responsibility on to our children and grandchildren. This is a further pressing reason for Labor to lead towards a rational, effective and uniform state-based policy.

DEA will continue to argue for rational energy policies, closure of fossil fuel generation and transition to renewable energy because we work for the health and survival of our patients and communities.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Christopher Juttner MBBS BMedSci FRACP
Haematologist, Oncologist (ret.)

Prof John Willoughby MBBS PhD FRACP
Neuroscientist and Honorary Neurologist, Flinders University and Medical Centre

Anaesthetist (ret.)

Energy and Health Subcommittee,
Doctors for the Environment Australia


CC: Labor Members and Senators of Federal Parliament

Mr Koutsantonis MP, SA Minister for Energy; Ms Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Vic Minister for Energy; Mr
Mark Bailey MP, QLD Minister for Energy; Mr Shane Rattenbury MP, ACT Minister for Energy

Federal ALP Leader Bill Shorten; Premiers Jay Weatherill (SA); Daniel Andrews (Vic); Annastacia
Palaszczuk (QLD) and Chief Minister Andrew Barr (ACT)

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