Dear State and Territory Premiers and First Ministers; State and Territory Treasurers; State and Territory Energy Ministers; State and Territory Health Ministers,
The States must continue their strong leadership at the approaching COAG Energy Meeting, totally rejecting the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) because of its egregious denial of action on pollution and global warming and its deleterious effect on Health.
Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) represents 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 deeply disturbed by the health implications of the Government’s proposed (NEG) plan. As more analysis accumulates it is increasingly evident that the NEG is designed to encourage continued burning of fossil fuels. It is also clear that the NEG will lead to much less investment in decarbonisation of the energy market, leading to more pollution and rising CO2 levels. It is extraordinary that the design proposes no further reduction in CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030. It thus fails Australia’s commitment to COP 21 in Paris.
This “plan”, which is really just an idea, has been developed by the Energy Security Board (ESB) in indecent haste, between the 3rd and 13th of October. It was then uncritically adopted by the Federal Coalition. Analysis since suggests that the ESB’s incorrect assumptions on renewable energy costs and confused thinking on ‘dispatchability’ make the proposal seriously ill-conceived.
The COAG Energy Council, to whom the ESB reports, had no input into the development of the NEG. It has been presented to the states as an unpalatable fait accompli.
The NEG requires the agreement of the states who will have to legislate to enable the policy. DEA is encouraged by the states moving towards a responsible renewable future: SA (>50% renewables now), VIC (40% by 2025), QLD (50% by 2030), NSW (net zero emissions by 2050), NT (50% by 2030), WA (previously 50% by 2030, now unsure), Tas largely renewable because of hydro electricity, and ACT has contracts to take it to 100% renewable by 2020. NT and WA are not part of the NEM. The states thus lead the Commonwealth in these targets which are crucial for decarbonisation, and they will have to work together in order to achieve a workable national framework.
The NEG 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.
There are estimated to be 3000 early deaths annually in Australia from air pollution, about half from coal mining and combustion with those nearby suffering most from these adverse health risks causing asthma attacks, chronic lung disease, lung cancer, heart attacks 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.
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, 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. These causes of death 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 major damage to water tables, soil, agriculture and the environment. Farmer distress and suicide is particularly important with unconventional gas and fracking.
DEA has always supported bipartisanship on climate policy. However we find it difficult to support the Coalition’s advocacy of this thoroughly bad and cynical proposal, and encourage the states to work together to develop an effective and uniform national state-based policy, just as is happening in many cities and sub-national states throughout the world, most notably in the USA since Trump threatened to leave 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 the states 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.
Dr Christopher Juttner MBBS BMedSci FRACP
Prof John Willoughby MBBS PhD FRACP
Dr Graeme McLeay MBBS FANZCA
Dr John Iser, MBBS FRACP
Energy and Health Subcommittee, Doctors for the Environment Australia