Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Is Australian coal still “naughty”, if the coal is burned in China?
Aussie PM Tony Abbott has infuriated greens in the last few days, by approving a gigantic new coal mine in the state of New South Wales.
According to Breitbart;
Last week a contentious A$1.2bn open cut coal mining project was given the thumbs up by the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, allowing for 268 million tonnes of coal to be extracted until 2046. The mine is in the state of New South Wales. The project, the third begun under Mr Abbott in less than 12 months, was approved after rigorous environmental testing and consultation with the local community.
Yes, there were Green Party opponents who called the mine ‘disastrous’ and ‘economically insane’, but in the end the mine went ahead because of the national interest.
Mr Abbott’s stated belief is that fossil fuel not renewable energy holds the key to a viable future – not just in Australia but across the developing world. In November last year he said:
“For the foreseeable future coal is the foundation of prosperity. Coal is the foundation of the way we live because you can’t have a modern lifestyle without energy, you can’t have a modern economy without energy.
“So if we are serious about raising people’s living standards in less developed countries, if we are serious about maintaining and improving living standards in countries like Australia, we have to be serious about making the best use of coal.”
However, Breitbart also cites an interesting statistic, that 73% of Australia’s coal is exported, presumably mostly to China.
President Obama has effectively granted China a “free pass” until the 2030s, to emit as much CO2 as they want. So there is no problem with China digging up vast quantities of their own coal, and burning it in Chinese power plants.
But why does the coal China burns have to actually be mined in China? If a given quantity of coal is going to be burned anyway, thanks to China’s free pass, doesn’t it make sense for as much of that coal as possible to be mined in the most ecologically friendly fashion possible, in tightly regulated Australian mines?
If Australia mines the coal, but the coal is burned in China, who carries the green “guilt”? Is the burning of the Australian coal in China sanctioned by China’s free pass, or does the coal count against Australia, even though the coal is being burned in China? Or does Australia have to accept shame just for the amount of coal in transit, which is instantly transmogrified into “good coal” when it crosses the Chinese border? Or does Australia only have to feel green guilt, if it can be demonstrated that the Australian contribution has increased the total quantity of coal which China is burning, over and above what they would have burned were they fully dependent on domestic supplies? In this case, would Australia only have to feel green “guilt”, for this hypothetical surplus?
If it is agreed that Australia has created such a surplus, can Australia’s green “guilt” be assuaged by scaling back Australian production, to eliminate the Australian sourced surplus, and filling the resulting demand gap with coal sourced from China? So any consequent overall surplus is purely a decision of China, and therefore sanctioned by the Chinese CO2 free pass?
If this is unacceptable, could some Australian coal mines be temporarily redesignated as Chinese embassies, and therefore become technically part of the People’s Republic of China? Australia of course would be entitled to charge a “rent” for land occupied by China embassies – said rent to be approximately the income the Australian government would have made, by taxing Australian coal producers who would otherwise have mined coal from the redesignated Chinese embassy land?
In any case, shouldn’t greens be encouraging Australia to help China minimise their ecological footprint, by encouraging Australia to export as much coal as possible, to minimise the amount of coal sourced from less regulated Chinese facilities?