“Mr Kellow will not be doing any interviews,” came the message into the media room at an unofficial G20 side event in Brisbane earlier this week.
Glenn Kellow is the chief operating officer at Peabody Energy – the world’s biggest privately owned coal company.
Perhaps Kellow was anticipating a hostile reception over his company’s spearheading of the coal industry’s new message that the climate changing fossil fuel is the answer to global poverty?
If this was his expectation, then it came true – if only for a few fleeting seconds – when a group of seven campaigners from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) rose to their feet in the middle of his keynote speech inside the lavish auditorium of the Brisbane City Hall.
“Peabody: we don’t want you coal. You don’t belong at the G20,” came the bellowing shouts, before the group joined hands to walk out.
Outside, the protestors rode bikes outside the forum entrance with billboards that spoofed Peabody Energy’s “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign developed with the help of Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest PR firms who previously worked with the tobacco industry.
“Climate Impacts for Life – Peabody Coal… the only kind of ‘Advanced Energy’ is Renewable Energy,” the billboards read.
Still not finished, the AYCC also handed out copies of an open letter, co-signed by youth climate groups from 30 countries, asking G20 leaders to ignore the lobbying of Peabody and other coal interests.
As DeSmogBlog has reported, the claims from Peabody Energy and others that the world’s poorest countries should be pulled from poverty on the back of coal are coming under increasing scrutiny.
Australia’s Minerals Council of Australia, the peak industry group representing the coal industry, said that any suggestion that the industry was using “energy poverty” as “industry propaganda” were “as inaccurate as they were offensive”.
Later on at the Peabody-sponsored event Dr Bjorn Lomborg, Danish political scientists and founder of the US-registered Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank, echoed the claims from Kellow that fossil fuels were the tool to lift the world’s poor – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa – out of poverty.
Both Kellow and Lomborg relied on projections from the International Energy Agency to claim that it was inevitable that developing countries would burn more coal.
While some projections from the International Energy Agency do find this, the figures also come with a climate health warning.
The IEA also states that the projections cited by Peabody and Lomborg are in line with a scenario that would deliver between 3C and 6C of global warming for Africa by the end of this century.
A new IEA Africa Energy Outlook report states:
The nature and scale of the challenge is subject to a broad range of uncertainty, but existing climate models suggest that, in scenarios broadly consistent with the outcomes of the New Policies Scenario, annual average temperatures across the continent will rise between 3 °C and 6 °C by 2100, compared to the 1986-2005 average (IPCC, 2014). The African continent, already prone to weather extremes, would be affected in several ways, including droughts in some areas, extreme precipitation in others and rising sea-levels affecting coastal areas (where many large populations are based and substantial components of economic output are concentrated).
In a later press conference, I asked Dr Lomborg how much of the poverty reduction he hoped could be achieved would be wiped out by climate change impacts in the region 4C.
He said that “you would have to run the models” but they were “very crude in a number of different ways”. He said while “obviously, you could get some numbers out of the models, they really won’t tell you anything”.
With a future which even Lomborg seems willing to admit is extremely unpredictable, advocating for fossil fuels for the world’s poorest seems like a high stakes gamble.
Photo credit: AYCC