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Byron Shire
November 30, 2022

Health workers say new AGL board must act on climate

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AGL’s Bayswater Power Station.

A shareholder revolt at AGL’s AGM this week saw the appointment of four new directors, suggesting climate apathy will no longer be tolerated by one of Australia’s biggest polluters.

Healthy Futures, a network of health workers concerned about climate change, say they welcome the opportunity that the re-shaped board brings in delivering on clean energy opportunities. They are urging that action be taken swiftly, and say AGL’s Climate Action Transition Plan (CTAP) should be amended to meet the 1.5 degree warming limit targeted by the Paris climate accord.

While Eastern NSW grapples with floods, health workers are on the frontline dealing with the physical and mental health impacts of climate-induced natural disasters, as well as with rising heat stress, adverse pregnancy outcomes and worsening kidney functions – all a result of a warming climate, according to scientific experts.

Right now, AGL remains Australia’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter. When Sydney-based GP, Dr Margot Cunich, asked at Tuesday’s AGM if AGL would amend its CTAP to meet the 1.5 degree target and create more surety around climate risk, Board Chair Patricia McKenzie stated that anything stronger than a 1.8 degree target wasn’t ‘feasible’ for the company.

Healthcare workers say they are not convinced by this position, and hope that the new board agrees that both the direct effects of climate change on the stability of society and the rapid technological changes in energy markets estimated by the NEM, AEMO and IEA, are strategic climate risks that AGL needs to be better prepared for.

Considering the woeful climate position AGL held before its current CTAP, Healthy Futures say they suspect the 70% vote in favour of the CTAP was an indication by shareholders that they support climate action and support the decision to bring forward the closure of Loy Yang A from 2045 to 2035.

Too little, too late

Health workers believe that a 2035 coal closure is too late, however, noting that for every year that a coal-burning power station remains open, in addition to the greater risk to climate instability, it is another year that Australians are subjected to the unnecessary and harmful release of toxins, such as nitrogen dioxide, associated with coal pollution, that cause a range of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Healthy Futures notes that the World Health Organization states that countries like Australia must exit coal by 2030. They say that if the new board wants to fulfil its climate mandate, it must commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

This target is supported by over 700 health professionals who have signed Healthy Futures’ open letter to AGL. They say that anything less poses a risk to public health and to the safety of communities across Australia.

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