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Exposing Australia’s biggest climate polluter


11 May 2021 at 8:41 am
David Ritter
Planning to get around to doing something in 2048 is not “hard work” – it is obscene corporate laziness for which we will all suffer, writes Greenpeace CEO David Ritter in this article taking aim at the “empty words” coming from AGL.  


David Ritter | 11 May 2021 at 8:41 am


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Exposing Australia’s biggest climate polluter
11 May 2021 at 8:41 am

Planning to get around to doing something in 2048 is not “hard work” – it is obscene corporate laziness for which we will all suffer, writes Greenpeace CEO David Ritter in this article taking aim at the “empty words” coming from AGL.  

As you drive down the Princes Freeway through magnificent Gippsland, the giant stacks of AGL’s Loy Yang A power station appear abruptly as a disfigurement on the horizon, rising towards the sky like middle fingers held up with contempt at Australia’s future. 

Coal is the biggest driver of climate change and Loy Yang A is the dirtiest coal-burning power station owned by AGL, which is Australia’s single largest domestic climate polluter. AGL plans to keep Loy Yang A burning coal until 2048 – 18 years after the very latest date by which OECD nations should have ended all coal use to avoid climate chaos.  

Last week, Greenpeace published a new report Coal-faced: exposing AGL as Australia’s biggest climate polluter. In 2019-2020, AGL was responsible for over 42 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to 8 per cent of Australia’s domestic total. 

But one of the biggest surprises in the analysis is that despite AGL’s relentless self-promotion, a pathetic 10 per cent of AGL’s total electricity output comes from clean energy sources while 85 per cent is generated from coal-burning power stations.

Appearances seem to matter a lot to AGL – which is perhaps why it has responded to the campaign by taking Greenpeace to court over its logo. AGL is not disputing the amount of greenhouse gases it is pumping into the atmosphere, causing entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes to offer this take over the weekend:

 

 

Australia’s worst climate polluter seems more worried about its own image than the future of the world.  

Dirty polluting coal power is AGL’s number one energy product – but you’d be hard pressed to know this from a quick perusal of the company’s website. Astonishingly, the word “coal” does not appear on the company’s landing page. On the “how we source energy” page, AGL uses the euphemism “thermal assets” and presents a picture of these being just one energy source among many – rather than the overwhelming source of AGL’s power.

On the “sustainability” page, AGL claims to be “working hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimise our environmental footprint” – a set of empty words from Australia’s biggest climate polluter. Planning to get around to doing something in 2048 is not “hard work” – it is obscene corporate laziness for which we will all suffer. Unless AGL brings forward the closure of its polluting coal assets, Australia will not be able to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions any time soon. 

The truth is, through its three ageing coal-burning power stations in Victoria and New South Wales: Loy Yang A, Liddell and Bayswater, AGL produces more than twice the emissions of the next biggest domestic Australian polluter – and more than BHP, Rio Tinto, Glencore and Qantas combined. 

And it’s not just through greenhouse gas emissions that AGL is jeopardising our health and natural environment. AGL is also Australia’s most prolific violator of environmental regulations for coal-burning power stations – since 2015, its three coal stations have breached their licenses 111 times, accounting for almost three quarters of all air and water violations in the Coal Impacts Index. One of these breaches involved the detection of a fatal, brain-eating amoeba in the now-closed Lake Liddell – once a popular recreation spot – that is likely to have been nourished by the artificially-warmed waters from the power station. 

It is clear that internally AGL is in a state of extraordinary flux. AGL’s share price has been heading south since 2017. This year the company experienced a $2.3 billion first-half loss, leading to plans for a restructure which were then followed by the abrupt resignation of the CEO, an episode that was memorably and aptly described by SMH business writer Elizabeth Knight as “AGL boss’s bizarre exit leaves corporate strategy in turmoil”. The company’s appalling proposal for a 300-metre-long floating gas terminal off the Mornington Peninsula was – thankfully – rejected on environmental grounds by the Victorian government after powerful community outrage. AGL reportedly spent $130 million scoping up what would have been an act of enormous environmental vandalism.

The central problem for AGL is that the profitability of the company is built on flogging wildly out-of-date technology that is disastrous for human health and the environment. The dilemma is made more complicated because of the irrational and ideological meddling of certain Canberra-based politicians who seem to care more about burning coal than anything else. 

The road ahead for Australia’s biggest domestic energy-provider should be very straightforward. First, AGL should be honest and direct– no more spin. Second, AGL must commit to closing all of its coal burning power stations by 2030 or sooner – not try and offload the problem somewhere else. Third, AGL should authentically pursue the strategy of becoming purely a leading renewable energy provider – with no more fossil fuels left in the mix. Anything less is nothing but corporate obfuscation.


David Ritter  |  @ProBonoNews

David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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