Rio Tinto demands carbon capture progress, but doesn’t want to pay for it

Rio Tinto’s energy division chief, Harry Kenyon-Slaney.

Rio Tinto’s (ASX, LON:RIO) energy division chief, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, said Friday the current climate change policy debate is idealistic and too focused on renewable energy and has urged governments to investment more in clean technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Speaking at the Energy Policy Institute of Australia meeting, the executive said it was clear the mining industry “can’t just wish away fossil fuels,” adding that any solution to climate change must recognize the ongoing significant role of fossil fuels in the global energy mix.

The executive added that coal, gas, uranium and renewables would all be needed to meet global energy demand growth of 69% expected in the next 20 years.

But the miner, along with other Aussie coal producers, has “paused” payments to the industry’s overhyped Coal21 group, which was supposed to become a $1bn industry fund to finance clean coal technology “in response to difficult trading conditions in the industry.”

The organization’s objectives were modified last year and now the same group is focused not just on reducing carbon emissions, but also promoting the use of coal in Australia and overseas.

So his answer to Coal21’s seemingly change of harts, is simple: “Knowing that coal is here to stay, it is fruitless to keep indulging in idealistic discussions about climate change,” he told the audience.

Kenyon-Slaney added the industry has an obligation to take action on climate change, while avoiding loss of power for hundreds of people in Asia, providing power for 1.3 billion people still living without it and trying to prevent four million deaths each year because of toxic methods of processing.

His comments are already making waves:

“As if to highlight Rio Tinto’s own lack of faith in the CCS, Kenyon-Slaney said the company had invested $100 million in the technology. This from a company that earns billions from coal mining each year —earnings that most analysts say is at risk if the world get serious about climate change,” wrote Giles Parkinson for RenewEconomy.

“To put that investment into context,” Parkinson adds, “a Perth-based start-up, Carnegie Wave Energy, has invested a similar amount in its new technology. It has yet to earn a dollar, but at least it has faith it will work.”

Image courtesy of Rio Tinto.