Let's Talk About Coal

New Zealanders all benefit from coal, regardless of our opinion on coal. It is in the electricity we use every day. Every time we eat a tomato or put milk in our coffee, coal or gas very likely helped produce it. When we use steel or concrete, we benefit from the embodied coal in these essentials. It’s easy for some to say: “stop mining and using coal”. But if it were that easy to move away from coal, users of the mineral would already have done it.
That reality inspired the team at Straterra to write “Let’s talk about coal”. We explain why and how coal is integral to our lives, in New Zealand and overseas, and what we can do and are doing to reduce coal use – and also oil and gas, being the largest contributor to energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
We talked with many New Zealanders in deciding what to include in this resource. Many are surprised to learn that New Zealand imports coal – we cannot mine it fast enough to meet demand, and imports are increasing. Also new for many is that our country’s single largest coal user is New Zealand Steel, the manufacturer of 65% of the steel products used domestically.
More than 70% of New Zealanders surveyed in 2020 think climate change and dealing with it will have an impact on our lives. But less than half think it will cost them money. We ask you to think again. Many people we spoke to who think that the $20 billion-a-year dairy industry is moving away from coal are surprised to learn that this will take decades, and will require very significant taxpayer subsidies to make the transition affordable. Coal affects everyone in New Zealand, including the cost of moving away from it.
The answer we consistently receive from people is that the world including New Zealand has no option but to move away from coal. We agree, noting that what’s important are CO2 emissions, independent of their origin. If it is cheaper for New Zealand to move into electric and hybrid vehicles and generate more renewable electricity than to stop using coal regardless of cost, surely, this is something for New Zealanders to consider seriously. Especially given the size of the prize: oil and gas use are responsible for 78% of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions, and coal, 16%.
This is not to leave the coal industry alone; for New Zealand, we suggest it’s about prioritising how we achieve the least-cost path to a net zero carbon New Zealand by 2050. The government has assured New Zealanders of a just transition. We say this will include moving away from coal over time, as practicable, and it will include coal mining and use during the transition. We now set out Straterra’s position on the climate change issue and coal.

Climate Change

195 nations signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 to commit to working together to stabilise global climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Doing the emissions reductions is proving a much tougher nut to crack, as the international data show. New Zealand’s carbon price is 59 times the global average, which...

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Coal Globally

The mineral that powered the industrial revolution with heat and the making of steel is still heavily used around the world today as a source of concentrated, low-cost energy and mineral carbon. To transition away from coal requires an understanding of why it is used so much around the...

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Coal in NZ

New Zealand has a wide range of coal types that have been mined since the 1800s, and there is plenty more of it, through coalfields in the Waikato, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago and Southland. At present, the rate of mining cannot keep pace with demand, leading to rising imports of...

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Future of coal

The world will transition away from coal long before the easily mined resources run out. The time this will take will depend on how it’s used. It’s one matter to switch electricity generation from coal to gas as is occurring in Europe and North America, another to replace coal in...

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