Australia’s new climate change minister is an MP once dubbed “Mr Coal” who believes the climate polluting fossil fuel is the secret to lifting the world's poorest countries out of poverty.
Re-elected conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has put Liberal Party MP Josh Frydenberg, the former resources minister, in charge of the country’s climate policy.
Frydenberg replaces MP Greg Hunt who, as environment and climate change minister, was responsible for approving the largest coal mine in Australian history — the giant Adani Carmichael mine in the country’s Galilee Basin.
The burning of coal is the world's single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions causing claimate change.
In September 2015, shortly after after being appointed Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, Frydenberg was described by conservative political commentator Andrew Bolt as “Mr Coal”.
In an interview with Bolt, who is a climate science denialist, Frydenberg said: “I certainly believe in the moral case that (former Prime Minister) Tony Abbott and others have put, that our coal, our gas, our energy supplies do lift people out of energy poverty and that will be an important theme of my term in this role.”
The idea that coal can be an answer to “energy poverty” in the world’s poorest countries is a talking point developed by the coal industry, in particular Peabody Energy, which has filed for protective bankruptcy in the United States.
Frydenberg is one of several conservative Australian MPs and Senators to have embraced the coal industry spin.
Conservation groups had mixed reactions to Frydenberg’s appointment and the newly created climate and energy ministry that goes with it.
Nikola Casule, a senior climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said Frydenberg’s appointment was a “huge blow” to the Great Barrier Reef, which has just undergone its worst recorded mass bleaching event, killing almost a quarter of the reef’s corals.
She said: “Frydenberg’s views on climate change are an embarrassing relic from a different era. Australians have been clear in asking their government to choose the Great Barrier Reef over the coal industry.
“For Malcolm Turnbull to appoint a minister who still believes that there is still a strong moral case for coal even during the worst coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef’s history is clear show of contempt for the Australian public.”
Miriam Lyons, climate campaigns director at community advocacy group GetUp!, said combining energy and climate into one portfolio was potentially a chance to clean up Australia’s energy sector.
But she warned: “Our 1 million members will be watching carefully to see if Minister Frydenberg is ready to tackle the big polluters who are crushing climate progress and holding back the renewables boom.
“If Josh Frydenberg has drunk too much coal industry Koolaid to deliver a fast, fair and affordable transition to renewable energy, we’ll be ready to hold him to account.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation “welcomed” Frydenberg to the role and said that it “made sense” to have the two portfolios combined.
ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said: “The single biggest thing Minister Frydenberg can do for our beautiful environment and the people and the places Australians love is to establish a national plan to rapidly clean up Australia’s energy supplies.”
Frydenberg’s replacement as resources minister is Liberal National Party Senator Matt Canavan, who in 2015 said he thought climate change science was becoming “more uncertain”, that climate models were not reliable, and that sea level rises were not accelerating.
He also said polar ice was not melting at an “unnatural rate” meaning this disappearing ice was not evidence of human influence on the climate.
Canavan has also been pushing for environment groups to have their charitable tax status revoked.
Main image: Josh Frydenberg, left, being interviewed by Andrew Bolt on Channel Ten's “The Bolt Report”