Maher told International Longwall News the surge of public and media interest in climate change in recent years has forced the coal industry to reconsider its future direction and invest in researching and developing clean coal technology.
He said this was paralleled by the resources boom in Australia, making it an ideal time for companies to establish clean coal infrastructure that is unlikely to pay dividends for about 10 years.
“The CFMEU has been driving the climate change awareness initiative for a long time and we’re pleased there is an emerging consensus between companies, environmental groups and the Government – and progress being made towards a national emissions trading scheme,” Maher said.
The union is also confident in the future security of workers’ jobs in the coal industry, with figures indicating more jobs will be created, rather than lost, in the near future. The sentiment is encouraged by concessions from emissions charges for the export coal trade pledged by both political parties.
“If we adopt a reasonable C02 [carbon dioxide] reduction program there will be absolutely no effect on workers,” Maher said.
“There is no sign of the industry slowing at all with about 15,000 new jobs set to come onstream in the next seven years and the demand from export markets looking to increase, at least in the immediate future.”
The long-term future for coal is uncertain, however, as international climate change frameworks threaten to limit the amount of coal produced or alternative technologies develop as strong competitors.
“I don’t see the coal industry as being under threat for the next 20 years or so,” Maher said.
“Beyond that it will depend on whether there is strong competition from clean coal, gas or other energy but now is the time to invest in low emission coal technology.
“It’s no longer a case of dig it out and flog it off.”
The union has launched a $A1 million advertising campaign to push its climate change message across all industries including tourism and the agriculture industry as well as coal mining.