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Jan 24 2013

Aussie coal exports 2nd biggest “carbon bomb”

A new report by consultancy Ecofys for Greenpeace, called Point of No Return, details 14 proposed fossil fuel projects, dubbed “carbon bombs”, that would together effectively lock in dangerous climate change.

Carbon bombs map

If the 14 projects go ahead, they would add 6.3 Gt/year (greater than present US emissions) to global CO2 emissions in 2020, a 20% increase at a time when we urgently need to cut global emissions as fast as possible. They would add 300 Gt CO2 to the atmosphere by 2050, about a third of the carbon budget for 2010-2050 required for a 75% chance of avoiding 2°C of global warming, the level which the world’s governments have agreed to prevent. They would keep us on the business-as-usual pathway that leads to an unimaginably catastrophic 6°C by 2100. Thus it is imperative that these fossil fuels be left in the ground.

ecofys-climate-endgame

Here is the full list of the 14 projects and their associated emissions:

Project

2020 annual emissions (Mt CO2) additional to existing production

2035 annual emissions (Mt CO2) additional to existing production

Cumulative emissions by 2050 (Mt CO2)

Northwestern Chinese coal mining expansion

1,380

1,380

51,734

Australian coal export expansion

759

1,181

38,374

Arctic oil and gas drilling

519

1,167

34,429

Iraqi oil drilling

417

814

24,081

Canadian tar sands oil

424

706

22,345

US shale gas

282

810

21,868

Brazilian deepwater oil drilling

328

660

18,692

African gas drilling

261

586

16,845

Indonesian coal export expansion

458

458

16,014

US coal export expansion

422

422

15,409

Kazakhstan oil drilling

286

382

13,239

Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil drilling

349

349

12,212

Caspian Sea gas drilling

241

360

11,333

Venezuelan tar sands oil

191

361

10,959

Total

6,317

9,636

307,534

Note the number for US shale gas emissions could be an underestimate depending on the rate of fugitive emissions.

The second largest of these “carbon bombs” (after coal mining expansion in northwestern Chinese provinces) is the planned expansion of Australia’s coal exports. Emissions from the burning of Australian coal exports already dwarf emissions within Australia’s borders. Proposed expansion plans would more than double these exports by 2025, to 408 Mt/year above today’s levels, producing 1.2 Gt/year CO2 (three times Australia’s domestic CO2 emissions). This includes 330 Mt/year from the Galilee Basin, a new region being opened up for mining. Other new Australian coal exports would come from the Bowen Basin, Hunter Valley, Gunnedah Basin, and Surat Basin. Companies involved are Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Peabody, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Vale, Yancoal, Waratah Coal, Macmines Austasia, Adani, and GVK. The coal would be exported mainly through proposed terminals and ports along the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, most importantly at Abbot Point and Hay Point. (The total capacity of proposed coal export ports is even greater than the proposed new output: over a billion tonnes of coal per year, or 2-3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.)

These projects are progressing because humanity is not limiting its demand for fossil fuels. 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are planned around the world, three-quarters of them in China and India. Coal-fired power is also resurging in Europe, partly due to the failure of the EU ETS, and partly because shale gas is forcing the US coal industry to shift from domestic consumption to exports.

One thing that strikes me about the report is that in many of the projects listed above, the carbon will be mined in one place and burned in another. Currently, the climate policies of governments focus on constraining emissions within their borders. That is not enough in a world where UN negotiations have not only failed to agree on an international regime of national emissions targets adding up to a safe global target, but have even agreed to delay such an agreement until it will be too late. There needs to be much more attention given to constraining extraction of and global trade in fossil fuels. We have to stop “carbon bombs” from being mined in the first place.

In the Australian context, we must abandon our plans to expand coal exports and instead start phasing them out.

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