Australia’s Fossil Fuel Reserves – A Valueless Asset
Senior economist Lord (Nicholas) Stern, of the London School of Economics, warned investors at the weekend that the World faces an economic catastrophe as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars (http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/19/carbon-bubble-financial-crash-crisis). If international agreements hold on curbing carbon emissions, most of these reserves will, in effect, be un-burnable and, therefore, worthless, leading to massive market losses.
Australia is particularly exposed to speculation that others will continue to want her carbon. By continuing the schizophrenic policy of curbing carbon emissions internally, whilst exporting millions of tonnes of carbon, Australia is ignoring, at its peril, the proclaimed intentions of some of its major markets to curb their own emissions. China has publicly stated that it will peak its use of coal in the next five years. Other markets will also begin to close their doors to Australia’s coal, oil and gas. Citibank warns that, for Australia, it may be too late to mitigate the market risks. Pension fund managers are already looking for alternative investment portfolios.
Whilst the opposition party in Australia may believe that a fixed carbon price of $23/tonne is damaging Australia’s ability to compete in the World markets, particularly since the EU price collapsed recently to unprecedented lows, others see the fixed price as a bold move that will lead the World in putting a more realistic price on carbon. Border adjustments, tariffs and trade bans may be used in the future to encourage more wide spread curbs on carbon emissions. Australia needs to wise up and take action now to move to a low carbon economy and more sustainable markets for its energy and mineral resources, both internal and external. This can only be achieved through open innovation, new business models and behavioural change. Carbon capture and storage, at large scale, is looking increasingly unlikely. Nuclear will have to play a role. Renewables must succeed. Fossil fuel businesses need to review their market predictions, look at their options and develop new, low carbon, business models. Otherwise, Australia will not be able to avoid the next global economic crisis.
Prof. Stefaan Simons
Stefaan Simons, CEng FIChemE, Professor of Chemical Engineering at UCL, is the Director of the IEPI, where he holds the BHP Billiton Chair of Energy Policy. His research expertise is founded on particle technology, with a focus on the resources sector, which he has used to develop low carbon technologies and processes for the energy and chemical industries. In 2009 he was awarded a RAEng Global Research Fellowship to develop his ideas on the open innovation of such technologies, spending time at UC Berkeley and the University of Melbourne Professor Simons has more than 190 publications.