Chairman (ACA) Tony Haraldson said the program, to be based in Canberra, is an important initiative for the Australian black coal industry as it addresses the challenge of maintaining competitiveness in a potentially emissions-constrained environment.
O’Neill’s role will be to help drive improved environmental performance across the industry and to develop a strategic program of activity aimed at ensuring coal’s continued place in Australia’s domestic energy mix, and as a major export earner and employment provider, particularly in regional areas.
With a strong background in environment and development policy areas, O’Neill has been a key advisor to both state and federal environment ministers, and senior advisor on the environment to former prime minister Keating.
Haraldson said that relatively inexpensive energy from Australian coal had underpinned the country’s competitiveness and prosperity for many decades and would continue to make a major contribution to economic well-being into the future.
“In 1999/2000, at a value of $8.3 billion, coal was our major commodity export, and accounted for around 9% of total merchandise export earnings. The industry employs around 19,000 people directly and generates another 50,000 to 60,000 jobs indirectly,” Haraldson said.
The new Sustainable Development Program will complement other initiatives aimed at tackling the environmental and economic challenges facing the industry.
These include the industry’s research program (ACARP), the proposed new Cooperative Research Centre, the life cycle assessment project (which is assessing the emissions of various energy sources and technologies and the long-term role of coal as energy systems move to sustainable paths), the Greenhouse Challenge program and work with academic and industry bodies.
Much of this work is focused on developing new technologies to reduce greenhouse emissions from mining, improving combustion efficiency in power generation and improving other aspects of environmental performance.
Haraldson expressed confidence that the program would be a catalyst for positive change in the industry, and for ensuring the continued recognition of the vital and legitimate role of coal in domestic and global energy markets.