Australia, like other countries, had been asked by the Rio+20 organising committee to come up with tangible suggestions as to how to promote sustainable development around the world. Rio+20 is about putting the UN earth summit of 20 years ago into practice. Australia was being asked to suggest things that are working in their country that other countries could implement as well. So what did the Australian interdepartmental meetings miraculously come up with? Mining for sustainable development.
The department officials I have spoken to so far seem to fairly readily admit that mining is in no way environmentally sustainable. Hence their attempt to emphasize 'mining for sustainable development', rather than 'sustainable mining'. One official attempted to justify this by asserting that Rio+20 is not about the environment. This flies in the face of the three pillars of sustainable development agreed at the first rio earth summit: people, the environment and the economy. Environmental sustainability is very much a part of Rio+20 and the Australian government is entirely missing the boat.
Australia has some of the most efficient solar technology in the world developed in the University of New South Wales. A highly useful and marketable technology. Instead of creating a company in Australia to produce or develop it, funding was only available from overseas. Australia has the opportunity to create baseload solar technology through the model created by operational CSIRO research plants in Newcastle. The Australian government could be sharing these tangible renewable and sustainable technologies at Rio+20 and instead they are shamefully trying to promote the fossilised dinosaur excrement that they are allowing mining companies to dig out of the ground. As a recent report by the Australia Institute has revealed, the Australian government is losing money due to the incredible subsidies that they are providing to the mining industry. Government resources pay for the fuel, the rail lines and the ports. The government gets far less back in revenue from royalties. This is even after the introduction of the superprofits tax. Instead of providing these subsidies to the mining industry Australia could be creating sustainable green ongoing jobs in the solar industry. Such a vision would ensure communities are not exposed to the serious health detriment of the coal mining industry.
The promotion of the mining industry is a false solution for the world. It does not work in Australia and it cannot work for developing countries. Of serious concern regarding the Australian government's significant efforts to get mining put in the Rio+20 document is that it will be a catalyst for further funding being used to promote Australia's mining companies in our region. This would be a shameful diversion of the Australian government's already limited development aid. The Australian government committed in the millennium development goals to putting 0.7% of its budget towards development aid, in the the May 2012 budget it sits at just 0.35%.
So the Australian government could easily change their position, Australian research has developed tangible solar baseload solutions for the world. With the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies to the green economy the government can create a safe Australia and help create an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world.