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(Image: DFES via AAP/Nikki Woods)

Let’s be clear: there’s no room on a heating planet for a company like Woodside now — and certainly not in its enlarged form post its merger with BHP’s petroleum division. The company is a clear and present danger in a world that is already headed for dramatic climate change and, unless significant action is taken to curb emissions, will likely face catastrophic heating.

In shunting its fossil-fuel assets into Woodside in exchange for BHP shareholders receiving 48% of the new $40 billion entity, BHP has followed the example of AGL’s establishment of Accel Energy, the entity that will hold AGL’s toxic coal and gas-fired power stations — although AGL is retaining a 20% stake in the new creation.

Except Woodside is already one of Australia’s biggest generators of carbon emissions.

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In doing so, BHP — and AGL — have handed investors and lenders a clear choice: either continue investing and profiting from unsustainable assets that inflict massive climate damage, or divest from them. (There’s a third alternative, too: take control of them and shut them down.)

The ranks of investors include the biggest institutional investors — international wealth management funds, and Australia’s superannuation funds, both industry and retail, which have declared their commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions or in some cases begun divesting from fossil-fuel assets. They will hold the largest stakes in the fossil-fuel megasaurus that Woodside will be.

Do they want to fund and profit from the colossal CO2-equivalent emissions that Woodside will produce both as part of its LNG operations and from the LNG it exports? Or are they prepared to shut off the supply of funding that keeps the vast fossil-fuel industry going?

Merely moving fossil-fuel assets out of one company and into another doesn’t have any impact on our rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, no matter how many ESG boxes it might tick for the sellers.

Investors know the federal and Western Australian governments won’t take any action — and certainly not the kind of action required to prevent the planet heating 2 degrees. They’re complicit with, and controlled by, Woodside executives and directors, who exercise a profound level of influence on both state and federal governments.

Indeed, former politicians from both sides are to be found on Woodside’s board. The democratic process in Australia has been co-opted by the boards and managements of fossil-fuel companies to prevent meaningful climate action. So it’s up to the owners of those companies to do the job politicians are being paid by the likes of Woodside not to do.

It’s a question that all Australian workers should consider. Do they want their super funds to divest? Do they want funds to force companies to take other actions, like stop paying political donation bribes to the major political parties, and stop hiring former politicians and staffers to distort the democratic process? Or will they sign up to meaningless 2050 targets and vague promises of decarbonisation when the entire purpose of the company is to make money from heating the planet?

Both BHP and AGL have set a clear course for their futures and Australia generally, offering a mechanism that will force all of Australia to decide whether to take a course of action that will help them, their country and the planet to survive the current warming event. And there’s nothing the politicians controlled by fossil-fuel companies — Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor, Barnaby Joyce et al — can do about it. Australians will be free to choose.

BHP has decided the future rests with low emissions. Its nickel and copper assets — which renewable energy needs in abundance — will lead the way in the future, with steel (iron ore and coking coal) supporting it until “green” (coal-less) steel proves itself — but that’s at least a decade away. And its Canadian potash venture reflects the knowledge that fertiliser helping to grow plants will help replace meat with plant-based foods and will be a growth market.

AGL knows that distributing green renewables to householders, business and motorists is the only future growth option. There’s enormous money to be made from a low-emissions future. And we have a government that’s desperate to shackle us to a high-emissions past on a burning planet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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