The Hunter Region was built off the sweat of coal miners and the coal they dug up across many decades.
This incredibly valuable rock has sustained livelihoods for a long time.
This story of coal is part of a wider narrative of energy, economics, the environment, politics and climate change. In the latest chapter, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends a phase-out of coal used in power stations by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of an IPCC working group.
As well as eliminating coal-fired power, limiting warming to 1.5°C would require actions like “changing food systems, such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products; electrifying transport and developing ‘green infrastructure’.”
The effects of not acting include more heatwaves, droughts, floods, bushfires and poverty, decreased crop yields and loss of some ecosystems, the IPCC says.
The IPCC’s latest report noted that smartphones “have become global in use within 10 years”.
“But electric cars, which were released around the same time, have not been adopted so quickly because the bigger, more connected transport and energy systems are harder to change,” it said.
“Renewable energy, especially solar and wind, is considered to be disruptive by some as it is rapidly being adopted and is transitioning faster than predicted. But its demand is not yet uniform.”
Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.
The report admits that “there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way”.
Australian politicians are in no hurry to support rapid change. Meanwhile, there are varying reports on the exact number of coal-fired plants planned or under development across the world. One recent report put the number at 1380, citing research from the German non-profit environmental and human rights organisation Urgewald.
So, despite the enormous concerns about the planet’s future, it seems that the story of coal in the Hunter has some way to go.
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