Last year, coal shipped from Australian ports transported 897 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, nearly double Australia’s domestic emissions and more than the aggregate of the world’s largest domestic CO2 emissions. emitter of Europe and the world’s fourth largest economy, Germany.
A new interactive tool launched by UK climate think tank Ember, which allows users to visualize the world’s coal export and import flows, reveals Australia was the world’s second most prolific coal exporter in 2020, shipping nearly 368 million tonnes of fossil fuel. It was just behind Indonesia, which shipped 372 million tonnes of coal.
No other country has come close to these two countries, which together shipped 59% of the coal transported by sea in the world. The majority of the coal was shipped to China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
While Indonesia has shipped a bit more coal, Australia’s coal ports are the largest in the world. Port Newcastle, NSW, is by far the largest coal export terminal in the world, with 155 million tonnes of coal exported in 2020, with integrated emissions of 378 million tonnes of CO2. The vast majority was thermal coal. Globally, Ember said a “crushing” 12% of global coal exports pass through Port Newcastle.
Hay Point in central Queensland is the second largest coal port in the world, shipping 100 million tonnes of mostly metallurgical coal, with integrated emissions of 243 million tonnes.
With integrated emissions of 621 million tonnes of CO2, Newcastle and Hay Point together emit 20% more integrated emissions than Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions of 510 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Apologists for Australia’s lack of aggressive climate policy like to point out that Australia’s domestic emissions represent only 1.5% of the global total. But when Scope 3 emissions from coal exports are added to the mix, Australia’s share increases to around 3.5% – and that doesn’t include emissions from gas exports.
The sheer volume of coal passing through the ports of NSW and Queensland serves as a sobering reminder of Australia’s reliance on the most climate-polluting fossil fuels and offers a simple answer to why climate policy remains so difficult in this country.
But even if domestic politics don’t change, Ember suggested that the pressure may start to come from the international community. Currently, the UNFCCC’s global climate regime has a strong focus on domestic emissions, but Ember analyst Nicolas Fulghum said more scrutiny should be given to countries that export.
“While the profits go to the coal-exporting countries, the environmental impact is shipped overseas.
“Despite net zero announcements from coal-consuming countries, scrutiny of coal production and rising carbon prices, there have so far been few binding agreements to address the supply from the global coal industry. “
Ember’s analysis found that as European markets shifted away from coal, exporters from further afield – like Colombia – increasingly turned to Asian markets. But their analysis suggests it won’t be a growing market. They suggest that India’s demand for coal may have already peaked, and they predict that total global demand for coal will rise from 1,700 million tonnes in 2020 to 1,300 million tonnes in 2030, and by 80%. to 340 million tonnes in 2050, less than Australia’s total coal exports. today.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Time, and is interested in everything related to climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy.