It is being promoted by the organisers, Rising Tide, as "the people's blockade of the Port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal port, to stop new coal projects and the export of coal".
The protest is billed as a family-friendly gathering with live music and speakers. Participants are encouraged to borrow provided kayaks or bring vessels, with suggestions including a tinny, yacht or surfboard, and be part of a flotilla to block coal ships entering Newcastle harbour this weekend.
At the coal terminals on Kooragang Island, similar protests against coal export were held in December 2021 and, more recently, in June 2023, under the direction of Blockade Australia. On the most recent occasion, port export activity was brought to a standstill when a woman dangled herself from a bridge on Kooragang Island, and a man glued himself to coal rail infrastructure.
Newcastle harbour does contain the world's largest coal export port. So, if the protesters did succeed and Australia ceased its second-largest export, coal, worth $54.3 billion in 2022, then, apart from permanently shrinking our GDP, global greenhouse gases would actually increase. This is because the world's coal importers would switch their demand to other suppliers, such as China, Russia, Indonesia, the US, and South Africa. As a result, global greenhouse gasses would increase because Australia's competitors produce dirtier coal with a higher sulphur and ash content.
Also, Australian coal has more energy content, meaning less is needed to generate the same amount of electricity. So, if Australia stops exporting its superior quality coal, arguably the best in the world, the overall effect would be to increase world pollution.
Moreover, the greatest threat of an increase in global warming comes not from supply, but rising worldwide demand for electricity that is being met by building coal-fired power stations. This elephant in the room is hardly ever mentioned in Australia's public debate about global warming.
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At the Glasgow COP 26 summit in 2021, only 40 countries out of 195 signed up to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Significantly, none of the rapidly developing BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) signed, and they are responsible for 40 per cent of the world's GDP. However, China did promise to meet the target 10 years later by 2060.
In 2022, China added, by "permit to build and under construction", 100 coal-fired power stations, which would be enough to supply the power needs of Great Britain. By comparison, Australia has 19 coal-fired power stations still in service.
Although China is expanding its renewable and nuclear power capacity, its current stable of 1118 coal-fired stations produces 50 per cent of the world's electricity. It is now dramatically expanding this number, not reducing it.
So, why are those so intent on reaching net zero by 2050 ignoring this prominent block to their climate change ambitions? China's rapid expansion of coal-fired generation will be the most likely reason the world target of net zero by 2050 will not be met.
The world's nations, through the COP mechanism and other international forums should be exerting considerable pressure on China to rapidly change course and follow France's example of having 70 per cent nuclear power. China, with its command-and-control economy, could achieve this by 2050 if it wanted.
Also, if the protesters this weekend on Newcastle harbour are serious about Australia meeting net zero by 2050, they should be protesting outside their federal MPs' offices and insisting that the federal government move its energy policy into the 2020s. Renewables will play an important role, but it will not be enough to meet our power demands.
For Australia to meet its 2050 target, it must develop new small nuclear reactors to provide base-load power. Modern nuclear power plants are safe, provide grid stability and produce zero greenhouse gasses. And they should be built on the site of redundant coal-fired power stations, such as Liddell in the Upper Hunter.
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