BHP’s announcement last week that it will be going ahead with a new export coal terminal at
Newcastle was a two fingered salute to an Australian public worried about
global warming, showing that while the climate may be changing, Australia’s
political economy isn’t.
Sure, we have a
new Federal Government which accepts the science and helped broker an agreement
in Bali about the need for deep cuts in
greenhouse emissions. But where it counts, in the coal fields of Queensland and NSW, it’s
business as usual, with more infrastructure being built to get ever more coal
out the door.
BHP’s new coal
loader at Newcastle
will see at least 30 million extra tonnes of coal exported every year. When
burnt, that will produce about 78 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution – as
much as all the cars on Australia’s
Most media coverage of the announcement was celebratory – indeed Howard-esque –
hailing the boost to the economy and the jobs that will be created. Will 2008
be the year that the media starts asking the hard questions of politicians and
big business about how our status as the world’s largest coal exporter (and
growing) squares with the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?
Sure, the coal
industry and their allies can keep running the defence that "if we don’t export
it, someone else will", but that doesn’t protect the rest of us from the
reality that every tonne of coal we export will come back to us as climate
change. And the impacts of that will dwarf the short term profits from
A Newspoll survey commissioned by Greenpeace last year found that 73 per cent of Australians want
our coal exports capped or reduced.
That’s a big space
for the new Federal Government to move into, particularly given they were
elected – at least partly – on the back of their commitment to tackling climate
change. At the very least they should be putting this new coal project on ice
while they consider the broader climate implications.
The questions about our ongoing coal export
industry are big and difficult, no doubt. But it’s time to start asking them
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