For a small country, Australia is having a big impact on climate change—and not necessarily in a good way.
For instance, the Australian environment minister on Monday approved the construction of one of the world’s largest coal mines. How big? The annual carbon emissions from the coal to be mined from the $15.5 billion Carmichael project in the state of Queensland would exceed the greenhouse gas spew of 52 nations, according to a Greenpeace estimate based on court documents and environmental impact statements.
Six other massive mines are proposed for Queensland’s coal belt, and if all are given the green light, they will collectively become the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany.
Greenpeace estimates the coal mined at the Carmichael mine will emit 128 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) annually when burned—most likely in China and India. That’s four times the planet-warming gases that neighboring New Zealand produces a year and equal to the combined annual emissions of Denmark, Ireland, and Sweden.
Australia is essentially profiting from the coal and exporting the carbon emissions. The Indian company that owns the mine, Adani Mining Pty. Ltd., will export the profits too. But not all the carbon will be exported. Adani estimates the Carmichael mine will itself generate 1.4 million MtCO2e a year from mining operations, according to an environmental impact report it filed. In contrast, Australia’s entire domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 were 402 MtCO2e.
To send all that coal overseas, Adani is building a shipping terminal that will dump 5 million metric tons of sludge within Australia’s iconic and World Heritage–listed Great Barrier Reef.
Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt, a member of the conservative government elected last year, insisted that environmental safeguards had been put in place as a condition of the mine’s approval.
“The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater,” he said. “The strict conditions will ensure the protection of the environment as a paramount concern.”
Don’t just blame the conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The previous left-leaning Labor administration was equally enthusiastic about the Carmichael mine, touting the jobs and economic development the project would bring to Queensland.
At the same, though, former prime minister Julia Gillard established a carbon tax on industrial polluters as the first step to creating a cap-and-trade market to reduce Australia’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week the conservative-dominated Australian Parliament voted to scrap the tax.
In other words, expect more massive coal mines.