Most of New Zealand’s coal miners will head to work today, as usual, having won a last-ditch exemption from the Covid-19 lockdown.
The government has conceded their fuel is essential to provide energy for food factories in the South Island.
As a result, the coal industry has been told it is necessary to keep the nation fed.
The coal business has long been targeted by the government because it produces more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than most other fuels and is therefore a dangerous greenhouse gas.
But many big food processors have carried on using coal because there is no reticulated natural gas in the South Island.
Companies that burn coal include Fonterra, Synlait, and Westland Milk Products.
Synlait has pledged to use no more, while Fonterra has switched to electricity and biomass in some cases.
But these are widely regarded as changes on the fringe, and coal continues to be used.
The industry’s recognition as an essential industry during the lockdown is understood to have been adopted reluctantly by the government, which long criticised the coal business for its role in climate change.
But two days of lobbying by both the coal and dairy industries led the government to defer that debate until after the Covid-19 battle is won.
This concession applies only to local coal – the export industry for coal is shut down from today.
New Zealand mined 3.035 million tonnes of coal in the most recent figures available from the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the second biggest user of that coal.
This sector consumed 24.95 petajoules of coal-produced energy, second only to electricity generation at 37.09 petajoules.