Ex­port leaves car­bon trail

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources -

Keith Orchi­son

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

the

agency,

‘‘ 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

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