Export leaves carbon trail
THE domestic debate about global warming runs hot — and it is claimed to have been a key determinant of last year’s federal election — but Australia’s contribution to the world’s burning of fossil fuels through exports hardly gets a mention.
However, it is the export business that has the largest impact on global greenhouse gas emissions — and, while there is ongoing debate about cutting domestic carbon dioxide emissions, the overseas trade in coal is set to grow at a rate of knots.
The latest data, released this month by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics, tells the tale.
This year Australian mines will sell 108 million tonnes of thermal coal (used to make electricity) and 132 million tonnes of metallurgical coal (used in metals processing). By 2012-13, ABARE predicts, this trade will have risen to 168 million tonnes a year each of thermal and metallurgical coal — a total of 336 million tonnes, responsible for more greenhouse emissions than all Australian activity from every source.
This 40 per cent increase in sales volume will deliver a 46 per cent increase in trade revenue for the Australian economy — ABARE reckons that today’s $36.2 billion in income will rise beyond $53 billion and in today’s dollar values. Factor in inflation and the dollar values will be higher still.
To this can be added Australia’s sales of the other key source of carbon dioxide — crude oil. Although this country runs up a huge annual bill buying oil overseas to make petrol, it also sells a large volume. The reason is that domestically-produced oil is unsuitable for petrol production, so it is exported and light oil is imported for use in our refineries.
ABARE says that Australian oil sales will rise in the next five years by about 14 per cent and it predicts that revenue from this trade will rise to almost $10.4 billion.
This increased sales is against the expected improvement in liquid natural gas exports. While LNG is also a source of greenhouse gas emissions, the output from burning it is less than half that of the equivalent amount of coal, so by selling gas to power stations abroad that would otherwise be coal-fired, Australia is making a contribution to lessening the growth of emissions.
The LNG traffic does not, however, lead to a cut in global gas emissions: development of every 2500 megawatts of gas-fuelled power plant is equivalent to another 1000MW of coal-burning plant.
ABARE expects the current value of LNG exports to almost double in five years — from just over $6 billion now to more than $11 billion in 2012-13. It predicts sales volumes will rise from almost 15 million tonnes today to 26 Mt in five years’ time.
Australia’s real contribution to greenhouse gas emissions globally selling uranium.
Today’s uranium exports — amounting to 10.9 million tonnes a year — help to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by about the same amount as our total national output of carbon dioxide, and ABARE says sales will rise to 13.4 million tonnes a year by 2012-13. The agency predicts that income from these exports will rise from $884 million annually today to $1.4 billion in five years’ time.
Advocates of radical medium-term cuts in Australian and global greenhouse gas emis- cutting lies in sions are confronted by the harsh reality that, according to ABARE, total thermal coal trade worldwide will grow at a rate of 2.7 per cent a year over the next five years, reaching 790 million tonnes by 2012-13 — this is equivalent to 13 times the volume of coal burned in Australian power stations annually today to produce more than 80 per cent of domestic electricity supply.
The key driver for thermal coal trade growth, says ABARE, is power demand in Asia and continuing construction of coal-fired power stations in a number of countries, notably China, but also India, Malaysia and South Korea.
‘‘ Coal,’’ says
‘‘ remains an important source of new electricity generation capacity because of its low cost, reliability of supply and the wide geographic spread of coal producers.’’
While emissions trading schemes will weaken growth in coal imports by the European Union nations and Japan, it adds, thermal coal purchases will increase strongly in China and India. In India, a number of ‘‘ ultra mega’’ coal-fired power stations of 4000MW are to be built, each consuming 15 million tonnes of coal a year.
By comparison, the NSW governmentowned coal-burning power stations have a total capacity of 11,670MW and burn 28.6 million tonnes of fuel a year.
Not a spaceship: A coal loader at Newcastle harbour