Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera 29 Jan 2020

Can Australia give up its addiction to coal?


"This is coal! Don't be afraid, don't be scared."

When a prime minister takes a lump of coal into his own parliament as a peculiar form of show-and-tell, you can be sure of a couple of things.

One: that coal means a lot to the country's fortunes, and two: there is going to be some controversy about it.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been a vocal supporter of the coal industry which has been partly responsible for helping Australia's economy avoid a recession for the last 30 years.

But then he also went on holiday while his nation burned, in some of the worst bushfires ever seen.

Now scientists are saying climate change has helped create conditions for the rapid spread of Australia's wildfires. And environmental activists are warning that Australia must curtail its carbon-producing industries such as coal.

In 2018, the value of Australian coal exports was $46bn, equivalent to 3.5 percent of nominal gross domestic product or GDP, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The coal industry directly employs a quarter of a million people and many more through support services and related businesses.

But Morrison says Australia is only responsible for 1.3 percent of global emissions.

However, when you take into account its export of petroleum and coal and its population of approximately 24 million people that means we have a country with 0.3 percent of the world's population, responsible for 5 percent of global carbon emissions, according to Bloomberg.

And then there is the cost: More than 500 Australians die each year from heat stress alone, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The institute also says that the financial cost of climate change is expected to rise to $26.7bn every year by 2050 - which is as much as it spends on defence currently.

With a debt-to-gross GDP ratio of just 40 percent, Australia has the power to transform its economy away from fossil fuels, if it wants to.

Tom Swann, a senior researcher at The Australia Institute, tells Al Jazeera that there has been a big shift in the rhetoric and some of the political positions taken by Australia's commonwealth government over the last month but there has not been any change in policy.

"In fact, rather than taking stronger action to reduce emissions and calling for global leadership this government has, in fact, shifted towards saying things like climate action includes hazard-reduction burning, reducing the amount of fuel loads to try and make bushfires less common, less severe."

Swanson points out: "Unfortunately it's actually climate change that is making this hazard-reduction burning more hazardous and more dangerous in Australia. That has really become a bit of a distraction from what has to be the main game: reducing emissions."

Julien Vincent, Executive Director of Market Forces says most people are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change, especially after the latest season of the bushfires outbreak.

But he points out that many people are perhaps "less aware" of how their personal investments may be helping to fuel the problem.

"What we do is help shift the behaviour of financial institutions by giving that sense of power to the people they are ultimately accountable to."

Is Lebanon ready for an IMF bailout?
Protests in Lebanon have been going on for months. At times, they have been violent, driven by the failing economy and general disdain for the government.

Now Lebanon may be forced to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the political and economic crisis escalates. It may also need to reconsider its 23-year-old currency peg to the dollar as its debt becomes unmanageable.

Lebanon's debt to GDP ratio is 150 percent - the third-highest in the world.

Now it has to repay $1.2bn in debt due in March. There was a plan to swap those, giving it more time to repay the debt, but it has been pulled after the credit rating agencies said Lebanon would be in "selective default".

In total, it needs to repay or issue more debt to cover a $2.5bn Eurobond this year.

Jad Chaaban, associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, said the devaluation of Lebanon's local currency has driven up the prices of many goods.

"It is very difficult for us to enter into any international loan or international bailout because of the very harsh conditions that are usually imposed with such loans such as raising indirect taxes, cutting pensions, and laying off people from the public sector. This, unfortunately, cannot be done now."

Chaaban adds: "The Lebanese population cannot bear any increase in the prices, in the taxes. People are on the brink of massive poverty so we cannot come now and cut their pensions and apply austerity measures that are u

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