‘My job to convince them’: Steven Miles knows climate change is coming for Queensland
Exclusive : New premier hopes to navigate path to transition in disaster-prone state that makes billions from coal Even for an incoming state premier, Steven Miles has had a busy first week. Amid record flooding across northern parts of the state, Queenslands new leader flew to Cairns twice, chaired disaster committees, announced grants, distributed beer to workers and spent time sitting with flood survivors who had lost everything. That last part of the job can be awful, he says. You just hope that talking with them, and spending time with them, makes them feel just the tiniest bit better. After nine years in cabinet, the new premier has accrued plenty of experience dealing with natural disasters. A fair bit of leading Queensland involves this type of thing, he says. Miles barely even sat down at Cairns airport during his first interview with Guardian Australia since taking the job; he was too busy. Still wearing one of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority polo shirts hed been in almost all week, the new premier talked climate ambition, reconstruction and the burden of power. Miles had already set out to make climate change one of the themes of his first week in office, even before ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper flooded the states north. Two Fridays running, the student of Al Gore has rolled out major green announcements: doubling the states emissions reduction target to 75% by 2035 in his first announcement as premier and banning new gas developments from the states far western river systems , an election promise dating to 2015. Miles is eager to build a consensus around the economics of the transition: a link between city and bush, right and left. The stakes are high for the transition in Queensland, which has among the worlds most carbon-dependent economies, according to Gavan McFadzean, a program manager at the Conservation Council. The coal industry was worth more than $15bn to the state budget last financial year, partly as a result of royalties hikes legislated under the former premier Annastacia Paluszczuk. Queensland also has the nations second-highest proportion of residents living in regional areas, behind Tasmania. Federal Labor holds no seats outside south-east Queensland; state Labor repeatedly won elections by appealing to the regions, including mining communities like Gladstone. Miles hopes he has found the answer. Its my job to convince [people] that addressing climate change isnt a threat to jobs, its actually a way to protect jobs, Miles says. If you look at the high-emitting industries in places like Gladstone and Townsville, theyre going to lose their global customers if they continue to be reliant on such high levels of fossil fuel energy. So the best way we can protect those jobs is by providing them with renewable energy so that they can sell their products into markets that increasingly want green, aluminium, green steel, green products. And similarly, if we get it right, we can also attract new industries. In the past, they were attracted to our cheap, plentiful fossil fuel-based energy. In the future we will have cheap, plentiful, firmed renewable energy. With an election less than a year away, the minerals industry which is already running ads complaining of coal royalty increases was further angered by this weeks Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre Basin announcement. A spokesperson for Santos says the company has operated sustainably and safely in the rivers and flood plains of the basin for around 55 years. This decision was made with little regard to science and evidence or the contribution of the gas industry in south-west Queensland to regional jobs, regional councils, domestic gas supply, business opportunities in regional Queensland and royalties, they says. The Queensland Resources Council described the decision as shortsighted. McFadzean believes the industry has even more to lose from the new emissions reductions target. It sounds the death knell for domestic energy from coal and gas and sets up an inevitable transition for Australias fossil fuel exports, he says. But Miles is adamant he hasnt promised an imminent switch away from fossil fuels. The Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre new gas ban was about protecting one particular area, rather than setting a cap on gas, he says. For fossil fuel generation, we have a plan for an orderly transition of our workforces into clean energy jobs. For extraction there will continue to be a demand ... particularly for coking coal and gas, going forward. Thats most of our resources industry. Miles has about 300 days before the next election to convince Queenslanders he is right about the path to transition. While historically debate in Queensland has focused on the risks of moving too fast, this week may have provided a timely reminder of the danger of moving too slowly. Miles says it is hard to blame a single event on climate change Ill leave that kind of causation to the scientists but the increased heat in the Earths atmosphere poses salient risks for Queensland. There is no doubt that Queensland has always been the most disaster-prone place in the [country], one of the most disaster-prone first-world places in the world, Miles says. And thats going to get worse.