Australia, the fifth largest coal producer in the world and the second largest in the region, has turned its back on a massive international deal at COP26 to stop coal investment and phase out coal power. It's the second time in as many days that Australian policymakers have refused to join the global community in committing to tackle climate change; right before this, Australia walked away from a global pledge to reduce methane emissions.
What does this latest refusal mean for jobs in Australia's energy industry? For a start, it might not save as many jobs as people hope. Approximately 43,000 people are employed in coal mining this year, according to figures from the Australian Skills and Industry Committee. It's among the sectors that create the fewest jobs in the economy, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And while the AISC projects that employment in the industry might grow to around 67,500 by 2025, this estimate may be thrown off simply because Australia exports 75 percent of the coal it produces and the international market for coal is very likely to drop following COP26.
Conversely, the reluctance to move to cleaner energy could actually create an opportunity cost of five times as many jobs in other parts of the energy industry. Last year, the Clean Energy at Work report, commissioned by Australia's Clean Energy Council, found that investing in renewable energy at a level congruent with international climate agreements would create 19,000 jobs by 2025 and potentially add as many as 350,000 more jobs by 2035, most of these in rural areas.
The report also warns that without that investment, the clean energy sector could directly lose - not just in terms of opportunity cost - between 9,000 and 11,000 jobs in the next decade, simply because it is under-resourced in the development of skilled manpower. There aren't enough people with skills and experience in the field.
Jobs are just one part of the picture around the Morrison government's adherence to coal. Over the years, Australia, and its unique ecosystem, has taken massive indirect losses from climate change and the ensuing weather events. The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020, the extraordinary severity of which has been partially attributed to climate change, were the worst outlier in this generation; they are estimated to have cost over A$103 billion just in measurable economic losses, with more long-term knock-on effects that can't yet be quantified.