A schooner of beer that costs $60? A loaf of bread for $20. A shirt that costs $350? There have been some wild claims on both sides of the climate change and carbon tax debates, but nothing quite matches the investor update presented last week by the Indian-owned and Wollongong-based coal miner Gujarat NRE.

Gujarat NRE (that stands for natural resources environment) warns that a carbon tax will cause stratospheric price rises for beer, bread, shirts and petrol. In a presentation delivered to analysts and investors at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney last week, and released to the ASX, the company said a carbon tax would render thousands jobless, plunge the economy into “de-growth,” create instability and penalise the entire community.

Coal, it says, was responsible for the transformation of the planet caused by the industrial revolution. Without coal, Gujarat says, civilisation would not have developed as it has. To underline the point, and to bring the level of corporate disclosure in ASX announcements to new heights, it provides this potent image of where we’d be without it …

Without coal, it continues, forests would be denuded, unemployment would rise to “humungous” proportions, and worse, “mankind would be stumbling in the quagmire of lost opportunities”. Just like this …

“Mining has helped us to tide over the recent global economic crisis, and may do the same for the impending one … if we do not want to kill the goose that lay (sic) golden eggs.”

Gujarat says there is no alternative. Nuclear power is not safe — “Japan is the living example”, oil and gas are costly and would be more so without coal; and renewable energy cannot meet the burgeoning energy requirements.

Gujarat then goes on to plead a special case for coking coal, “the green variety”, which is used for steel making and that its mines in the Illawarra mostly produce, and thermal coal that’s used in power stations.

“Coking coal needs to be treated differently and coking coal producers seek preferential treatment and not bundled in a single category of coal,” it suggests.

Gujarat NRE is 70% owned by the Indian coal miner Gujarat NRE Coke, which buys most of the coal, and wants to expand both its mines to produce three million tonnes a year over a 30-year period. Last year it made a $24 million profit from its Australian operations.

We just hope that the investors and analysts to whom this was presented have bought the argument. While share prices of coal companies in general have been rising strongly, thanks to the surge in international coal prices, Gujarat’s has been travelling in the opposite direction, falling by more than two thirds since January.

In the more conventional part of the 40-side presentation, the company says the carbon tax will apply to both mining operations, but because they are relatively gassy mines, they will be eligible for assistance under the government’s package. And it notes several opportunities have been identified to reduce and manage fugitive emissions from both mines, thereby reducing the carbon tax liability.

The lesson from all this? Best to go long six-packs. Big time. Particularly if the carbon price legislation is passed. If Gujarat is right, the value of beer will soar. Bread too, but it might not last as well. And if Tony Abbott wins and the carbon price is repealed, then you’ll just have to drink them.

*This article first appeared on Climate Spectator

Peter Fray

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