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The Federal Government has dismissed calls to phase-out coal after the top United Nations climate advisor urged Australia to transition away from fossil fuel in order to avoid an economic and climate disaster.

Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action, Mr Selwin Hart, said Australia must phase out coal by 2030 if it is to avoid catastrophic climate change and major disruption to the economy.

“The world is way off track from meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement – a critical threshold for preventing the worst impacts of climate change,” Mr Hart said.

“A pre-requisite of keeping the 1.5C goal within reach is the urgent global phase-out of coal.

“Market forces alone show coal’s days are numbered, as many investors increasingly abandon it in favour of renewables, which are now cheaper in most places. The growing expectation of stranded coal assets is hastening coal’s decline.

“However, this shift is still not happening fast enough to avert a global climate catastrophe.”

Federal Minister for Resources and Water, Keith Pitt, said coal will remain a significant contributor to the Australian economy well beyond 2030. Mr Pitt said the latest export figures show the reports of coal’s impending death are greatly exaggerated and its future is assured well beyond 2030.

“The future of this crucial industry will be decided by the Australian Government, not a foreign body that wants to shut it down, costing thousands of jobs and billions of export dollars for our economy,” Mr Pitt said.

“In the three months to July this year, coal exports soared to $12.5 billion, which is a 26 per cent increase on the previous quarter.”

Mr Hart noted the role coal plays in the Australian economy, “even if mining only accounts for a small fraction – around two per cent – of overall jobs”.

“But it’s essential to have a broader, more honest and rational conversation about what is in Australia’s interests, because the bottom line is clear,” Mr Hart said.

“If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy: from agriculture to tourism, and right across the services sector.

“Similarly, construction, housing and the property sector, in a country where the vast majority live on or near a coastline. It will be even more catastrophic in your neighbourhood.”

Mr Pitt said Australia was committed to its future in coal.

“While coal remains Australia’s second largest export, Australia accounts for six per cent of the world’s total annual production behind China (50 per cent), India (ten per cent) and Indonesia (seven per cent). Coal prices are extremely strong which reflects the strong global demand for our high-quality thermal and metallurgical coal,” Mr Pitt said.

“Coal consumption throughout Asia is forecast by the International Energy Agency to grow over the next decade to meet the energy demands of countries like China, India and South Korea.

“Australia has an important role to play in meeting that demand. Coal will continue to generate billions of dollars in royalties and taxes for state and federal governments, and directly employ over 50,000 Australians.”

Mr Hart said the UN is not calling for a phase-out of coal “overnight”. According to the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, OECD countries like Australia should aim to phase out coal by 2030.

“If adopted, this timetable would leave nearly a decade for Australia to ensure a just transition for its coal workers and others affected,” Mr Hart said.

“More broadly, this shift from grey to green economies presents vast opportunities: to drive prosperity, productivity, more and better jobs, and inclusive economic growth.

“Globally, investments in renewables generate three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels.

“If countries – including Australia – choose bold climate action, a new wave of prosperity, jobs, fairness and sustained economic growth is there for the taking.”

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