Former Australian Prime Minister Turnbull says ‘clean coal’ is a scam

The concept of “clean coal” is a scam, according to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Speaking with CNBC Tuesday as part of its Sustainable Future Forum, Turnbull said the idea of carbon capture and storage “simply doesn’t work” despite years of investments.

“The proposition was that you would … effectively separate the CO2 from the flue gases … of a power station, you would then compress it and you’d pipe it and put it under the ground into you know some sort of … stratum … where it would hopefully stay there forever,” Turnbull explained.

Reflecting on his time as environment minister under former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 2007, Turnbull said there was “quite a bit of optimism” surrounding the idea, with billions being poured into it.

If a technology is not ready to be deployed at scale today, then it’s too late.
Richard Lancaster
CEO, CLP Group

All that investment has had little to show for it, however, with the technology only working in “some very niche areas,” he said, adding it’s now time to “stop wasting money.”

“It’s a scam in this sense that the fossil fuel sector talk about clean coal, and they talk about carbon capture and storage as a means of not doing what we need to do, which is stop burning fossil fuels,” Turnbull said. “I can say this as somebody who thought it had great prospect, you know, 15 years or so ago. But it failed, and we should work on the technologies that do work.”

Turnbull’s comments come as major global economies, including China and parts of Europe, face an ongoing power crunch fueled, in part, by government efforts to reduce carbon emissions to avert an impending climate crisis.

Electricity firm CLP Group’s CEO Richard Lancaster agreed, saying the coal industry “has had plenty of time over the past 25 years” to prove itself and it’s “too late” for the idea of clean coal to be further considered.

“The challenge that we’re facing to achieve net zero by 2050 is that the electricity sector has to decarbonize well before 2050,” Lancaster said.

This means that all the current infrastructure used to produce and distribute electricity — built over more than a century — needs to be replaced in less than 30 years, he said.

“If a technology is not ready to be deployed at scale today, then it’s too late,” Lancaster said.

The CEO said the road to zero emissions is through “old technologies,” such as renewable energy from sources like wind and solar as well as storage though batteries and pump hydro schemes.

“They’re all existing technologies that are well understood, well proven, and it’s those technologies … that we need to deploy,” Lancaster said.

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