A coal-free future
Coal mining and exports
Over three-quarters of the coal mined in Australia is exported overseas. The largest customers for Australia's export coal are Japan (40%) and South Korea (16%) but significant quantities also go to Taiwan, China, India and Europe. Already, the greenhouse gas emissions from coal exported from Australia are greater than all of our domestic greenhouse pollution combined, and the industry is rapidly expanding.
As well as being our biggest source of greenhouse pollution, coal mining for export is causing significant local and regional environmental impacts and is impacting on local communities.
Get the facts and figures on the coal mining and exports with CANA's backgrounder here.
The aggressive expansion of the coal export industry is putting the Great Barrier Reef in danger, too. Check out Greenpeace's report and campaign to protect it.
Read up on the contribution mining makes to our greenhouse gas emissions with our "fugitive emissions" backgrounder here.
Why we need to stop using coal
The World Energy Outlook for 2011 was released on 9 November and delivered a sobering jolt. The Executive Summary is available for free and reveals a key finding of the annual scenario exercise from the IEA: unless further action is taken, by 2017 all CO2 emissions permitted for the world to meet the Cancun Agreement's two degree warming goal will be already "locked-in" by existing power plants, factories and buildings.
What that means is that, under current global policy settings and promises, all the power stations, steel mills, LNG processing facilities and aluminium smelters the climate can afford will be built by 2017, and anything more we build after that means overshooting the mark and setting us on a course of irreversible climate change. This is despite the parallel finding that 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity at all. More than 95% of these people are in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia. 2012 will be the UN year of Sustainable Energy Access for All, an initiative being driven by the Secretary General, with an accompanying vision statement that outlines the scale of the challenge and how the UN can confront it.
Other messages from WEO2011 include:
- "Coal has met almost half of the increase in global energy demand over the last decade. Whether this trend alters and how quickly is among the most important questions for the future of the global energy economy"
- Meeting the 450ppm pathway requires coal consumption to peak well before 2020 and then decline
- Four-fifths of the total energy-related emissions allowable under the 450ppm scenario are already "locked-in" by existing power plants, factories and other facilitires.
- Subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption of fossil fuels have jumped to over $400 billion.
Australia is the third most dependent country in the world on coal for electricity – behind South Africa and Poland. Greenhouse pollution from electricity generation has grown 50% since 1990, and accounts for more than half of our total pollution. To change this, we need to follow the example of the US, China, Spain and India and stimulate a switch to renewable energy sources, which are free, clean and don’t have to be dug out of the ground, impacting water, soil and biodiversity.
Beyond the link between emissions from fossil fuel combustion and climate change, there are many other reasons why our reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal and oil) should be cut. These include environmental degradation, agricultural impacts, and health problems.
Fossil fuel extraction can lead to loss of biodiversity and agricultural land, contaminated drinking water, disasters such as the Shen Neng in the Barrier Reef, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, and more.
Fossil fuel, and particularly coal, extraction, transportation and combustion have been shown to lead to;
Adversely affected lung development
Impacts on brain development and IQ.
Damage to respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Contribution to four of the top five leading causes of death.
CANA supports the Government's Clean Energy Future package as an important step towards meeting our climate change obligations, including the switch from coal power to renewable energy.
Investment in new coal fired power stations is much less attractive under an emissions trading scheme, but further measures could be taken, such as the creation of an emissions performance standard for new power stations that ensured the emissions intensity of the Australian power sector continues on a steady decline.
CANA's members working on breaking Australia's coal addiction include
- Environment Victoria, Climate Action Moreland and other Victorian Climate Action Groups against the HRL power station
- Quit Coal in Victoria
- Members of Rising Tide with the Environmental Defenders Office, challenging the legality of new coal in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
- Greenpeace Australia Pacific, working on exposing the financiers behind new coal power, including the big four banks.
- Conservation Council of Western Australia as part of NoNewCoalWA
- Mackay Conservation Group, working with other local campaigners on protecting the Bimblebox Nature Refuge from open cut coal mining.