Queensland coal belt uncertain of repercussions as world discusses phase-out of fossil fuels at climate talks in Glasgow

As the biggest names in world politics shake hands and call for the future of global broadcasts next week, in the Queensland Coal Belt, life will go on quietly.

Dinner is on the table, small businesses are reconciling the books, and the first night shift coffees are brewing.

World leaders will meet in Glasgow for the most ambitious climate talks since 2015, with an agenda that includes setting global targets to achieve net zero emissions, which would involve investments in renewables and accelerating the “phase-out” of coal.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal (used in the steel industry) and the second-largest exporter of thermal coal (used for power generation) and prices for both have recently increased amid demand and demand. global energy supply.

Using data provided by its members, the Queensland Resources Council has calculated that the coal industry provides over 32,000 full-time jobs directly and indirectly supports around 270,000 jobs.

The future of coal is the subject of debate at the Glasgow climate talks.(ABC News: Russel Talbot)

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) predicted last month that if China, Japan and South Korea stick to their stated targets of achieving net zero carbon emissions, it will mean that exports of Australia’s coal will decline dramatically by 2050.

The RBA predicts a lower risk for producers of metallurgical coal due to strong global demand for its use in steelmaking until greener alternatives become more prevalent.

The town of Moura in central Queensland, a short drive southwest of Rockhampton, is home to the Dawson Mine, an open-pit metallurgical coal mine that also produces thermal coal.

This small town was originally a farming community, and agriculture still plays an important role – as does gas and a local ammonium nitrate facility – but the mine, now a joint venture between Anglo American and Mitsui Holdings, is one of the oldest operations in the state. , having been established in 1961.

In the main street of Moura stands a dark memorial to 36 people killed in underground mining disasters in 1975, 1986 and 1994.

Underground operations ceased after the final disaster, but today the mine still employs over 1,300 people, many of them residents of Moura and the surrounding Banana Shire.

Aerial view of Moura in central Queensland
Coal is central to life in the central Queensland town of Moura. (ABC News: Russel Talbot)

Although small, Moura is a vibrant community where the coal mining industry plays a central role.

But the implications of the decisions taken in Glasgow are still unclear.

Local hairstylist Jackie Campbell admitted she found it confusing to try to figure out how the talks might impact her community.

“It’s very complex,” she said.

Many of his clients are either mine workers or their families.

Moura's hairdresser Jackie Campbell with her client Judy Nobbs
Hairstylist Jackie Campbell and her client Judy Nobbs worry about Moura’s future.(ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)

There is a never-ending stream of warm conversations in the living room – and sometimes the future of mining presents itself.

“A lot of people, I guess, don’t talk on the science side or even potentially the political side, but I guess a lot of people talk on the employment side,” she said.

“If the mines weren’t there, I guess a lot of people wouldn’t work here, visit here, or live here, so I guess we might not be able to support that many small businesses.

“I hope that there is – if we are to change – that there is an education that goes with employment.”

“It’s a huge concern”

On the day the ABC visited Ms Campbell’s salon, one of her clients, Judy Nobbs, had come from her property about 50 kilometers outside of town.

“I think if there weren’t a mining town here as such, we would end up without a doctor, without a pharmacy – as it is now, we didn’t have a doctor here a few years ago. weeks, so neither of us got to even go to the doctor, ”Ms. Nobbs said.

“I think that’s a huge concern.”

Debbie Elliott is a well-known face around Moura – she heads the Moura Community Advisory Group and has led campaigns to prevent the closure of the local hospital and to secure funding for an elderly care facility.

“We’re very lucky, we have a very open door with the mining group that is here and they’re pretty keen to listen to the community, I think,” she said.

Local Moura Debbie Elliott
Debbie Elliott says Moura is working hard to develop tourism.(ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)

She hopes the city will continue to thrive in the decades to come.

“I think there will be changes. I really wouldn’t be surprised if we still had mining here in some form or another,” she said.

“With all the changes that are happening in the way things are mined, there could be improvements… that reduce emissions.

“But we have a very strong rural community, we have other industries… I know [the local] the chamber of commerce is working very hard on the tourism side. “

Ms Elliott believes the residents of Moura have a “tenacity to survive”.

Moura sits at the southern end of the Bowen Basin, a major charcoal producing region stretching from the Banana Shire, which includes Moura, to the Central Highlands, the Isaac region and the Whitsunday Coast.

Much of the coal from this region is exported through the multi-commodity port of Gladstone.

The industrial city has its eyes on new, greener industries – with major investments in green hydrogen planned by mining tycoon Andrew Forrest, as well as several Japanese conglomerates – one in partnership with an energy producer state owned.

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Darran Schultz is an electrician at the Port of Gladstone – a very happy employee and avid fisherman who enjoys the coastal town lifestyle.

He said it is clear that the climate has changed and that the pressure to resolve the issue was of paramount concern to the coal industry.

“I should say that it is my livelihood. If I had the opportunity and the port authority diversified into other areas, it would be easy for me to move on to that,” he said. declared.

Gladstone Electrician Darran Schultz
Electrician Darran Schultz says many residents feel threatened.(ABC News: Emilie Gramenz )

Mr Schultz said the scale of conversations about the future of fossil fuels had at times left residents feeling threatened – as if they were “between a rock and a hard place”.

Long-time local Gus Stedman is the Gladstone Region Promotion and Tourism Leader. Its job is to make the region a place to visit or to live.

“You can make a lot of money here, you can get a good industry lifestyle list and you can sleep in your own bed every night, unlike DIDO or FIFO,” he said.

“I think at one point people were worried that high emission industries like smelters and refineries might come to the end of their life. But I think now people are excited about the way companies are approaching the transition to a greener economy and less intense emissions. “

Jobs, the key to people’s future hopes

Gladstone is one of many communities in central Queensland that have gone through cycles of mining boom and bust over the years, grappling with a transient workforce and issues associated with housing and the cost of living.

Opportunity is a major concern for male Bailai Matthew Cooke, who was born and raised in Gladstone and heads the First Nations Bailai Gurang Gooreng Gooreng Taribelang Bunda People Aboriginal Corporation Registered Native Title Body Corporate.

Bailai male Matthew Cooke
Bailai man Matthew Cooke said future employment was high on everyone’s list of concerns.(ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)

He says the engagement of First Nations during previous booms in Gladstone has not been well managed and he is determined to ensure that this does not happen again.

“We want to have shared prosperity and we want to know that the people of Gladstone, including the First Nations traditional owners, will have shared prosperity in the future of our community,” he said.

Mr. Cooke advocates proactive investment in skills and training for jobs in future industries.

He said the job was always there when people told him about the future of the region.

“The key message is about jobs, you know, sustainable jobs, long-term jobs.

“Many of us are also concerned about the importance of climate change and the fact that governments at all levels are taking action to address it… but jobs are certainly high there – and certainly local participation.”

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