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As the planet boils, the Queensland Government promotes coal royalties for supporting Cairns Hospital expansion

Introduction by Croakey: In the final week of the hottest July on record, United Nations General Secretary António Guterres strongly urged leaders to “step up for climate action and climate justice”, stressing the need for action on “emissions, climate adaptation and climate finance”.

Speaking at UN Headquarters, Guterres warned that “the era of global warming has ended” and “the era of global boiling has arrived.”

He said we still have time to “stop the worst”, but “all actors must unite to accelerate the just and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while stopping oil and gas expansion and phasing out coal by 2040.”

Honouring financial commitments to replenish the Green Climate Fund, investing in adaptation and putting a stop to greenwashing and deception is also vital, he said.

Meanwhile, this week UNESCO deferred the decision to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ for another year. The decision has raised concerns by scientists who stress the reef is very much still under threat.

“The reef is absolutely in danger,” marine biologist Jodie Rummer said on the Triple J Hack program. “We know that the number one threat the reef faces is due to climate change.”

While some improvements have been made under the current Federal and Queensland Governments, such as the banning of gillnet use in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by 2027, many of these are quick fixes, according to Rummer.

“We need to focus on that number one threat, that means no new coal or gas without exception. We have to end those public subsidies for those fossil fuel companies, those that are doing the most damage and polluting the most and destroying the Great Barrier Reef,” Rummer said.

The links between climate change, fossil fuels and health are well evidenced.

That is why it is questionable the Queensland Labor Government is promoting the use of coal royalties to pay for the Cairns Hospital expansion, according to Professor Peter Sainsbury, a senior figure in public health, past president of the Public Health Association of Australia and a columnist on environmental health concerns.

“Why, you might naively ask, has the Government chosen to focus on coal royalties as a source of funding for the local hospital?…[they] want to create social licence for the coal industry,” Sainsbury writes in the article below, first published at John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal, under the title ‘Environment: Palaszczuk – mining coal is good for your health’.

When Croakey approached the Cairns Hospital and Queensland Health Department for comment, we were referred to Queensland Treasury, where a spokesman referred us to a discussion during Queensland Parliamentary Budget Estimates this week. The excerpt emailed to Croakey is published at the end of this article.


Peter Sainsbury writes:

“Everyone benefits from coal royalties [and] this ensures Queenslanders are compensated fairly from the earnings mining companies make from this finite natural resource.”

Or at least that’s what the Queensland Government wants Cairns residents, indeed all Queenslanders, to believe.

I spent a few days in Far North Queensland last week and happened to notice the electronic billboard in the picture below at the junction of two of the main streets in Cairns city centre.

I expected the Queensland Resources Council to be responsible but no, the advertisement was the work of, you guessed it, the Palaszczuk Labor Government.

“Coal royalties help pay for the Cairns hospital expansion” – Photo supplied by author

Why, you might naively ask, has the Government chosen to focus on coal royalties as a source of funding for the local hospital? They might just as reasonably have said:

“Your traffic infringement fine helped pay for the Cairns Hospital expansion” or “The GST you paid on your home renovations and bar of chocolate helped pay for the Cairns Hospital expansion”, but no, Palaszczuk and friends want to create social licence for the coal industry.

To quote Christine Milne, “at the end of the day these governments are wholly owned subsidiaries of fossil fuel companies and it’s their donations and interests that matter most”.

By way of background, the coal royalty rate in Queensland is based on coal’s selling price and over the last couple of years Queensland’s budget has benefited greatly from the high price of coal.

As this abates, Queensland’s revenue generated from coal royalties is expected to be around $3.5 billion per year in 2023/24 and beyond. This represents four percent of the Queensland Government’s total annual revenue. $3.5 billion is not to be sniffed at but it pales compared with the revenue expected over the next few years from the GST ($18-20 billion per year) and taxation ($22-25 billion per year).

Queensland has the largest number of operational coal mines and produces more coal than any other state. It also has two-thirds of Australia’s new major coal projects. During 2022/23, the Queensland Government budgeted $532 million to support fossil fuel industries in tax-based concessions and direct payments to coal mines, power stations, ports, rail infrastructure and related industrial precincts.

Thankfully, this is considerably less than the $730 million it provided two years earlier, probably because of the declining use of fossil fuels to generate electricity in the state.

Across Australia, total financial assistance to the producers and major users of fossil fuel from all governments was $11.1 billion in 2022/23. The Federal Government funded 88 percent of this, mainly through the Fuel Tax Credit Scheme.

I wonder what it costs to produce and display an advertisement such as the one above.

Perhaps I could start raising money for an alternative one:

The mining and burning of coal in Queensland is causing many of you to get seriously ill and die prematurely. The Queensland Government has used public money to increase the services at Cairns Hospital so you can get treatment when our coal makes you sick.”

Is global warming making heatwaves worse?

It’s getting hotter all around the globe. The evidence is incontrovertible – there can be no doubt about it.

Extremely high temperatures, heatwaves, are getting more frequent, more severe and lasting longer and are occurring in regions where they have not previously been seen. Again, the evidence is incontrovertible.

But heatwaves are not new – they have been documented from time to time wherever meteorological records exist. So, is global warming causing the changes observed with heatwaves? To put it in the language of the scientists: can the more severe, more frequent heatwaves be attributed to global warming? And if so, to what extent?

Data from the current, no longer rare, heatwaves in the USA, Europe and China shows that these events would have been extremely rare without human-induced climate change.

Without climate change, the current heatwave in China would have occurred about once in 250 years rather than the current once in five years, while in Southern Europe and SW USA/Mexico temperatures this high would have been virtually impossible rather than occurring once every 10-15 years. The maximum temperatures during the heatwaves would also have been 1-2.5oC lower without climate change.

The maps below demonstrate an important feature of heatwaves: where the temperature is highest is not necessarily the same as where there is the greatest difference between the current temperature and the usual temperature for this time of year (the temperature anomaly).

Image source: www.worldweatherattribution.org

In July, the highest temperatures (around 40oC) were experienced to the east and north of the Gulf of California but the highest temperature anomalies (in the +4-5oC range) were experienced somewhat further inland. Similarly in southern Europe, areas around the Adriatic and Ionian Seas did not have particularly high temperatures (30-35oC) but they experienced the highest temperature anomalies, around +6-8oC.

Populations in areas with the highest anomalies will possibly suffer the greatest discomfort and distress. Humans get used to the weather they are used to, so to speak. Consequently, how the temperature increase affects us depends more on the change from normal than the actual temperature.

Encouragingly, the urban heat island effect can be reduced by effective urban planning, resulting in cooler cities, and there is evidence that heat action plans reduce heat-related mortality.

However, the study’s authors conclude: “Unless the world rapidly stops burning fossil fuels, these events will become even more common and the world will experience heatwaves that are even hotter and longer-lasting. A heatwave like the recent ones would occur every 2-5 years in a world that is 2°C warmer than the preindustrial climate.”

We’re already 60 percent of the way to two degrees, with an accelerating rate of temperature increase.

Climate damage from the war in Ukraine

In addition to the dreadful human cost and the destruction of homes and critical social infrastructure, the war in Ukraine has also caused immense environmental damage: destruction of ecosystems, environmental pollution and emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). For example, the first year of the conflict led to the release of 119 million tonnes (CO2 equivalent – MtCO2e) of GHGs – roughly a quarter of Australia’s annual emissions.

The largest source of emissions (just over 40%) has arisen from the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the reconstruction that this has necessitated. Reconstruction and its associated emissions will continue long after physical hostilities have ended.

Less than 20 percent of the emissions are attributable directly to military activities. Fuel consumption (19 MtCO2e) accounted for the vast majority of the battle-generated emissions, of which the Russian troops produced 75 percent, mainly from their ground forces. While tanks consume fuel very quickly, most of the fuel is actually used behind the front lines for moving personnel, equipment and supplies around.

Similarly, while fighter and bomber planes burn fuel at horrifying rates, the use of aviation has been relatively (stress relatively) limited in this war. Almost all the GHGs caused by munitions (2 MtCO2e) are generated during their manufacturing.

The third-most significant cause of GHG emissions was fires, mainly near the front lines, of course. Fires in the conflict zones increased 36-fold and their emissions 10-fold compared with the previous twelve months.

It’s also interesting to see the significant increase in emissions from civilian aircraft forced to take longer routes from Europe to East and Southeast Asia. Most of the emissions associated with refugees is caused by transporting them to and from Ukraine.

Despite the great care that seems to have gone into preparing the linked report, for a variety of reasons (e.g. the assumptions and extrapolations that had to be made, the fog of war and the first casualty phenomenon) I think that we can regard the figures provided as no more than order of magnitude estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions during the first year of conflict. It should also be noted that the report was co-produced by the environmental department of the Ukrainian government.

Research on the Great Barrier Reef

I spent five days at the Lizard Island Reef Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef last week – hence my stopover in Cairns.

I know next to nothing about the different species of fish on the Reef but was introduced to Centropyge bicolor, the blue and yellow angel fish below. ‘Centro’ are about the size of your hand and can live more than ten years. Harems of around seven females and one male occupy and guard territories of about 200m2.

There is a strict hierarchy based on size. When the male dies, over the next three weeks the dominant (largest) female changes sex and becomes the male (sequential hermaphroditism). For a better look at these delightful reef fish, here’s a 20 second video of a small harem.

Centropyge bicolor – screenshot from video

About the author

Professor Peter Sainsbury is a retired public health worker with a long interest in social policy, particularly social justice, and now focusing on climate change and environmental sustainability. He is extremely pessimistic about the world avoiding c