Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison absent from UN Climate Summit in New York and instead opts to visit a box factory with US President Donald Trump, as Australia becomes world’s most potent dealer in coal and natural gas.

The UN Climate Panel, which is meeting in New York this week, has refused to invite Australia to speak at the event because it is making virtually no progress to wean itself off fossil fuels, although Prime Minister Morison had little intention of going anyway, as his government ramps up coal and liquified natural gas (LNG) exports.

In-fact as many countries in Europe and even the world’s economic powerhouse China, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and particularly coal, Australia has been actively lobbying other alternative markets to make sure demand stays high.

Documents obtained through a freedom of information request by the Australian Conservative Foundation (ACF) found that Australian government officials have been lobbying industry representatives in Vietnam and Bangladesh to prop up demand for coal as traditional customers reduce orders, with the focus of the meetings to mitigate declining coal exports, notably from China.

“As major importers of Australian coal transition to cleaner forms of energy, the Morrison government is doing the industry’s bidding by trying to push more coal on other markets. Our government is trashing Australia’s reputation because of its addiction to polluting coal,” Christian Slattery, ACF’s climate change campaigner, told Renew Economy, Australia’s leading website for clean energy news and climate policy.

Meanwhile, as the Australian government encourages other countries to buy its fossil fuels, Angus Taylor the energy minister, has claimed that Australia’s LNG exports are leading to overall reductions in emissions of global greenhouse gases.

Taylor has claimed that Australian LNG has replaced dirtier fossil fuels such as coal in countries like Japan and South Korea. However, Taylor’s claims have been rubbished as false. It has been proven that burning natural gas doesn’t lead to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. His claims also ignore the fact that Australia is the world’s largest exporter in the world of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

The Figures Speak for Themselves

From 2000 to 2015 Australian coal exports doubled and LNG exports have tripled and since 2015 have tripped again. Overall Australia’s coal and gas exports are over 1.1 billion tonnes annually which is double the country’s domestic emissions. Australia is the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia.

But Australia might soon outstrip even these two behemoths as it is proposing 53 new coal mines and is planning to double existing coal production by 2030.  Meanwhile, LNG production is also set for further expansion with 19 future projects at the planning stage.

World Will Not Meet Goals of the Paris Agreement

If Australia continues down this path, then the world does not have a hope of meeting its climate goals. Even if efforts are made by governments to scale back on new coal-fired power stations, then the laws of economics dictate that the greater the quantity of coal and LNG pumped into the market, the lower their price will be and therefore the more attractive to buyers, particularly unscrupulous ones that don’t care about the effect on the environment.

Australia at Climate Change Coalface

Compared to many European countries, Australia’s efforts at tackling climate change are woefully inadequate, the government just manages to meet its commitments to the Paris agreement. This is particularly baffling as Australia is at the coalface when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change.

Wildfires have broken out this year two months early and the last few years have seen record-smashing heatwaves, where even some of Australia’s wildlife, which has evolved over millennia to deal with the country’s extreme heat, has been unable to survive.  A record-breaking heatwave in Queensland last November resulted in one-third of the entire population of spectacled fruit bats (a species of bat) dying. 

The Great Barrier Reef is also under threat. A report commissioned by the Australian government and which took five years to put together, concluded last month that the outlook for the reef was very poor. The coral reef is dying off as a result of higher sea temperatures, which have been caused by human-driven global warming. In 2016 and 2017 rising sea temperatures caused mass bleaching events, which killed the coral and therefore destroyed habitats for other marine life.

Edward Cowley