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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Graham Readfearn

Mining giant Glencore’s Australian PR blitz forgets the coal driving the climate crisis

Aerial views of Newcastle coal industry and Glencore coal operations
In new ads, mining giant Glencore says its products power ‘everything from smartphones and electric cars to renewable energy for a low carbon future’. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Glencore is one of Australia’s largest exporters of thermal coal – a product that, when burned, is a major driver of the climate crisis.

But the Anglo-Swiss mining giant is on an advertising and marketing blitz in Australia – tagline: “Advancing everyday life” – where mention of the thermal coal that earned them US$10.9bn in revenue in the last two years has so far been conspicuously absent.

In several sparkly videos, on webpages and in Facebook advertising, the company says its products power “everything from smartphones and electric cars to renewable energy for a low carbon future”.

People on Facebook that click on an advertising link are taken to a page that trumpets that the company is “laying the foundations for a low carbon future”.

Curiously, while the advertising mentions Glencore’s 24 Australian mines, it doesn’t say that about two-thirds of them are coalmines.

In 2020 and 2021, Glencore in Australia produced 110m tonnes of thermal coal for export. Glencore’s adverts include a segment where the words “nickel”, “zinc”, “cobalt” and “copper” flash up on the screen, next to images of wind turbines and people plugging in electric cars.

The company does mine lots of these products. But according to its 2021 annual report, it spent US$2m expanding mines in Australia that extract those metals and minerals.

Company annual reports show that in 2020 and 2021, Glencore spent US$259m expanding its Australian thermal coal production and another US$535m sustaining the thermal coalmines it already operates.

Can a company really be laying the foundations for a low carbon future when it’s spending close to a billion dollars sustaining a product that’s doing the opposite?

Glencore is also waiting for environmental approvals for its $1.5bn Valeria mine in Queensland that would produce between 14m and 16m tonnes of coal a year.

In a document sent to the Queensland government in 2020 about the Valeria mine, the company said it was “Australia’s largest coal producer” with production of more than 100m tonnes of saleable thermal and metallurgical coal in 2018.

Temperature Check asked Glencore why its campaign ignored its thermal coal portfolio; whether the campaign was “greenwashing”; and asked about its investments in expanding thermal coal while claiming to be laying foundations for a low carbon future.

A Glencore spokesperson said there were “four pillars” to the company’s brand campaign to be rolled out over the next 12 months, which would be an “introduction to Glencore, rehabilitation, energy (including coal) and metals”.

The campaign would highlight that Glencore is “both a producer of fossil fuels and … one of Australia’s largest producers of metals (cobalt, nickel, zinc and copper) which are essential for renewable energy technology, electric vehicles and a low carbon future”.

Glencore has a goal to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the spokesperson said the company had been “very transparent about our climate change commitments and the responsible managed decline of our global coal business”.

Hot coal poll

If you want to find out what a person thinks about a particular thing, then there are ways of asking a question that would tend to elicit a certain response. This is best avoided if you want to get a sense of genuine public sentiment.

In recent weeks, the Institute of Public Affairs has been promoting two “polls” which they claim show most Australians want net zero policies paused and coal-fired power stations built.

One poll asked: “Australia should pause its commitment to the policy of net zero emissions by 2050, as the UK has done, until we have enough energy supplies to avoid blackouts.”

Another asked: “Australia should build new coal-fired power stations to ensure families have reliable and affordable electricity all year round.”

Notice anything odd? The UK hasn’t paused commitment to net zero and there’s no credible link between net zero policies and blackouts. There’s also no evidence that “reliable and affordable” electricity means coal (which is more expensive than electricity from renewables, even without counting the cost of the impacts of climate change).

Macquarie University polling expert Prof Murray Goot told Temperature Check what the IPA was doing was “advocacy polling” because the questions “encourage responses favourable to the position adopted by the poll’s sponsor by failing to offer a contrary position or alternative set of arguments.”

He said: “Questions presented in this way encourage acquiescence – the tendency of respondents with little interest in the question, or the poll, to simply agree with the proposition and move on.

“Polls that encourage responses favourable to a particular position in a debate cannot be considered to fairly represent public opinion.”

IPA research director, Daniel Wild, has been giving interviews on radio and with broadcaster Alan Jones promoting the poll on coal.

Jones claimed the IPA’s poll was “authoritative” and said data was collected by marketing research firm Dynata which he said was the world’s largest “first party data company … so it’s pretty credible”.

However, Dynata made it clear to Temperature Check it doesn’t draft the questions.

Dynata told Temperature Check: “Dynata conducts polls that are scripted by clients. As such, we do not make allegations or claims, but rather collect data for questions provided. The opinions published by the Institute of Public Affairs do not represent Dynata’s viewpoints.”

Daniel Wild said the surveys were “scientific polling designed to understand the views of real Australians” and rejected that it was advocacy.

He claimed the questions had been phrased in a way that was “consistent with the best available evidence” on the cause of energy shortages.

Here’s a summary of those causes in an earlier column.

Regurgitated Alan Jones

Climate misinformation can get all the way around the world before good information has time to put its boots on.

Not only does misinformation spread, but it also has a nasty reflux habit.

UK Twitter commentator James Melville shared a clip last week with his 294k followers of Alan Jones’s appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program from 2019.

In it, Jones tried to argue that Australia shouldn’t take action on climate change because CO2 was such a small percentage of the atmosphere (0.04%). Even then, only 3% of the CO2 added each year was coming from humans.

“Inconvenient truth”, wrote Melville.

Except the 97% of natural CO2 is irrelevant. It’s the 3% being added, mostly from burning fossil fuels, that has put the Earth’s carbon balance out of whack, causing global heating.

While the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere might seem small, it’s gone up by about 40% since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

We’re now at levels not seen for at least 4 million years (things that seem small can have big consequences, just as any driver who raised their blood alcohol from zero to o.o5% and was then stopped by the police will attest).

In Melville’s UK this week, several towns recorded temperature highs of 40C or more, and at least 34 places broke the nation’s previous record high temperature of 38.7C.

Firefighters attending multiple blazes described the conditions as “absolute hell” – which might also be described as inconvenient.

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