Australia is the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia. But because of the way that international accounting rules for greenhouse gas emissions work, the emissions from burning the enormous amounts of coal and gas we export do not “count” towards Australia’s emissions. When Australia exports iron ore and coal to be turned into steel, cars and fridges that are sent back to Australia, it’s China that gets blamed for the emissions, not Australia. Cool, huh?
But accounting rules aside, whether or not Australia builds enormous new coalmines in the next few years will have enormous consequences for local communities, the shape of Australia’s economy and global greenhouse gas emissions. Again, Australia is already the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels. If we build another 23 coalmines or mine extensions across NSW then we will either tank the world’s emission reduction goals or be left with stranded assets, ruined communities and a moonscape on which farming and tourism jobs will be impossible to create.
On Four Corners this week, the NSW energy and environment minister, Matt Kean, declared that: “The cheapest way to now deliver electricity or energy is a combination of wind, solar, pumped hydro and renewable technologies. So it’s not fossil fuels. It is now cleaner energy. Those people defending old technologies are the equivalent of defending Blockbuster in a Netflix world.” Kean is right, and of course the countries that we export our coal and our gas to know it too.
Why NSW would commit itself to phasing out fossil fuel use in the next 30 years yet assume that the rest of the world won’t do likewise, is just one of the simple questions that Australian governments and the coal industry will not answer. Luckily for them, most of the Australian media refuse to even ask such questions.