MONDAY 22 DECEMBER, 2008 |
Australia - A Future Saudi Arabia of Coal?
Imagine a peak oil world - which
isn't too far off
according to the International Energy Agency. Perhaps
we'll all be driving electric cars by then, recharged via our rooftop
. Or perhaps they'll be powered by liquid coal fuels.
While abundant, coal generates 25 to 50 percent more carbon dioxide per energy unit than petroleum
according to the IEA. Everything to do with coal is
essentially an environmental nightmare, from the mining through to combustion.
A "low emissions" or otherwise coal powered world has Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist with the Carnegie Institution in Stanford,
; fearing that coal is likely to be the cheapest alternative and
therefore a very tempting prospect.
With that in mind, let's turn to Australia's coal industry, which has the 5th
largest proven reserves globally, is the 4th largest coal producer in the world
and the world's
largest exporter of coal
Even given that status, the coal industry in this country was in big trouble
prior to last week, with "New
" failing to convince many of the public that a low
emissions version of the black/ brown stuff could ever be climate and generally
environmentally friendly, nor should it be considered a long term solution to
our energy needs. Even low emissions coal can take up to 20
- 25% more coal
to provide the energy needed in the
scrubbing/gasification/sequestering process. Additionally, the possible
of Victoria's Latrobe Valley power stations may have eventuated
in the wake of a looming massive fall in the value of coal fired power
Given the short term threats and the role that coal may play in liquid fuels of
the future, it may then be not so surprising then that Australia's
Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
is providing a great deal of support to
the coal industry. The government sees it as a viable long term activity;
leaving clean and green renewable
and the prosperity it can bring to this country looking by
comparison somewhat like a poor cousin, even taking into account the upcoming
Some are hypothesising the Australian government is lavishing support on the
coal industry and establishing low carbon reduction targets with a bigger
picture than the short term woes of the sector in mind - the potentially massive
riches and power for Australia in the years ahead that could be gained through a
huge global demand for liquid coal fuels.
Regardless of the good that the renewables sector will do both environmentally
and economically for Australia; if liquid coal fuels were to take off, Australia
could potentially become a coal driven Saudi Arabia of sorts.
But at what cost?
Whatever the intentions, the Rudd government's unconditional 5% carbon reduction
target and support of the coal industry has drawn all sorts of criticism in
recent days, including from the government's own climate adviser, Ross Garnaut.
Professor Garnaut lashed
at the low target and the compensation deal for heavy polluters; making
a play on Winston Churchill's famous words with the statement, "never in
the history of Australian public finance has so much been given without public
policy purpose, by so many, to so few".
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