As energy ministers from around the country gather at the COAG Energy Council today, evidence is mounting that coal-burning power stations are causing irreparable damage to our health, local environments and the global climate.

The Ministers will need to be mindful of Australia’s Paris climate negotiations and implement policies that match our national commitments to carbon emissions reduction. What is clear is that a plan is urgently needed to phase out coal-burning power stations and replace them with clean renewable energy.

The fact is coal is fast becoming untenable. Recent cases from Queensland and NSW clearly show that coal-fired technology is outdated and poses a serious threat to our health.

In late July it was revealed that 1,400 tonnes of coal ash are being stored illegally in warehouses in Brisbane’s suburbs. This waste product from coal-fired power stations can cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular health problems. Thousands of tonnes of coal ash are produced every day by outdated power stations, and it is clearly not always disposed of safely.

At least 20 Queensland coal workers have been diagnosed with black lung, and more cases are being found every week. This has sparked calls for a Royal Commission from victims, as they suffer the reality of coal’s impact on our health.

And just last week AGL announced the water quality at Lake Liddell in NSW’s Hunter Valley is unsafe for public use and the popular tourist lake will need to be closed permanently. The closure was announced after amoeba naegleria fowleri was detected in the lake, which can cause fatal infection. AGL uses the lake to cool its nearby Liddell Power station, warming the water, which attracts the growth of the amoeba.

So once again - outdated coal burning technology has resulted in a major blow to the community, the environment and the local tourism industry.

These very recent examples are just the tip of the iceberg for an industry that is in serious decline.

These very recent examples are just the tip of the iceberg for an industry that is in serious decline. Elsewhere in Australia, entire towns that have depended on the coal industry for their economic livelihood now find themselves in a state of perpetual insecurity as to their future.

In Victoria for example, the future of Hazelwood power station is in doubt. French power company Engie have stated they are looking to close or sell the power station. Without planned phase out of power stations such as Hazelwood, the future of communities like the Latrobe Valley are left in the hands of business executives based in Paris and Tokyo.

These are the issues that the Ministers gathered at COAG will need to reconcile this week if they are serious about providing Australians with a clean, safe energy future. Globally speaking, the picture couldn’t be clearer. We need leadership from governments to make the rapid shift away from carbon intensive industries.

NASA has just reported that July was the warmest month recorded in history. Month after month we are breaking climate records. Electricity production, the vast majority of which comes from coal burning power stations creates the over 30 per cent of our climate pollution. To avoid further dangerous climate change, and keep warming to well below 2 degrees as committed in Paris, we must close all our coal burning power stations before 2035.

With health and climate risks growing by the day from the continued use of coal-burning power stations that have long since passed their use by date, the closure of these power stations is inevitable. A plan for a phased closure of power stations means that communities and the market have a chance to plan ahead.

With health and climate risks growing by the day from the continued use of coal-burning power stations that have long since passed their use by date, the closure of these power stations is inevitable. A plan for a phased closure of power stations means that communities and the market have a chance to plan ahead.

Energy Minister Frydenberg and his state counterparts have an opportunity to lead the way in planning our transition away from coal to renewables. They must take responsibility for the climate and health risks of coal-burning power stations, and plan a phased closure to give communities a fair and equitable transition they deserve.

Hannah Aulby

Clean Energy Campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation.