7 December 2018
“We continue to believe in the long term need and demand for coal” the CEO of Washington H. Soul Pattinson (WHSP), Todd Barlow told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Sydney today.
It quickly became clear that climate change was a hostile topic for the investment house, which has a diversified portfolio including a 25% stake in TPG and a 50% stake in New Hope Group (a coal mining company that bought the Bengalla coal mine in August 2018). Chairman Robert Millner grew increasingly irate throughout the AGM after being questioned on global warming and its associated risks.
When asked by a shareholder if he believed in climate change Millner, who is also the chairman of New Hope, replied in frustration: “I’d like to ask you the same question as well. It’s a very difficult question to answer, and I’m not prepared to get into a political debate here about the pros and cons of what people think about climate change.” Watch the exchange below:
It’s not a difficult question for scientists though. There’s near total consensus we are in the throes of a global warming catastrophe; one that will magnify if we fail to limit our consumption of coal.
Pushing the coal agenda
Millner told the meeting that the coal WHSP is exporting will be burned in “new modern coal-fired power stations that are at least 50% under the Paris emissions,” later calling it “cheap” and “clean”.
According to the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), “we have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions,” a statement also consistent with peer reviewed literature from Oxford University researchers.
So what do Millner’s comments actually mean? Not much for limiting climate change, but they do show WHSP is heavily invested in the idea of coal as a long term asset.
And that could be risky. As carbon-generating forms of energy face increasing regulations to cap climate change, investors are becoming concerned about the potential financial implications.
It was these risks that shareholders wanted to know about. Millner refused to answer their questions in a civil manner however, howling “If the shareholders aren’t happy they can sell their shares!”. Watch below:
In his CEO’s address Barlow noted ‘there’s currently over a thousand coal fired power plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages, in the world.” Millner later told shareholders “of interest they’ve built 725 new coal-fired power stations, and there’s another 1000 on order” later calling it “cheap” and “ clean.”
This figure is nowhere near accurate and builds on the misinformation about this issue spread by pro-coal commentator Andrew Bolt and government backbencher Craig Kelly. Kelly last year confused the number of coal powered units being built with the number of coal powered plants – significant difference when you consider that Liddell power station in NSW consists of four units.
According to the latest data, there are 708 coal power stations under construction and in the planning stages, a far cry from the “over a thousand” suggested. Further, the number of coal power stations actually built will be much less than stated, with Carbon Brief calculating that “the pre-construction pipeline has fallen two-thirds since 2015.”
The chairman finished his diatribe by telling shareholders who were concerned about the catastrophic consequences of climate change: “I don’t know how you people can sleep with yourselves at night!”
Perhaps Millner should ask himself the same question.