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Climate change: Why Australia refuses to give up coal

It is one of the dirtiest countries per head of population and a massive global supplier of fossil fuels. Unusually for a rich nation, it also still burns coal for most of its electricity.

Australia's 2030 emissions target - a 26% cut on 2005 levels - is half the US and UK benchmarks.

Canberra has also resisted joining the two-thirds of countries who have pledged net zero emissions by 2050.

And instead of phasing out coal - the worst fossil fuel - it's committed to digging for more.

So it's no surprise that Australia is being viewed as a "bad guy" going into the COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow, analysts say.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government is under huge pressure to do more.

Loyalty to the industry

Mining has helped drive Australia's economy for decades, and coal remains the country's second-biggest export.

Only Indonesia sells more coal than Australia globally.

The government often credits coal for much of the country's wealth, but many analysts argue this is overblown.

Coal exports totalled A$55bn (£29bn; $40bn) last year, but most of this wealth was kept by mining companies. Less than a tenth went to Australia directly - that's about 1% of national revenue.

The coal workforce of 40,000 is about half the size of McDonald's in Australia. But coal jobs do sustain some rural communities.

Though most voters want tougher climate action, some coal towns lie in swing constituencies that are key to winning elections.

The mining lobby has "distorted" much policy over the years, says Prof Samantha Hepburn, a climate law expert at Deakin University.

The current government dismantled Australia's emissions trading scheme in 2014, shortly after winning power in a campaign heavily backed by mining interests.

It's never again tried to put a price on carbon, or to restrict emissions from fossil fuel producers.

Instead it's provided extra support to coal. This includes:

  • Approving new mines and extensions: There are over 80 proposed projects including plant upgrades
  • Tax subsidies: About A$10bn went to fossil fuel companies last year alone
  • 'Clean coal' investments: Schemes such as carbon capture and storage, often criticised as ineffective

Chasing a shrinking market

Australia argues coal will continue to generate national wealth for decades to come.

It talks up demand in Asia, particularly from industrialising economies.

China and India alone account for 64% of global coal consumption. Demand in Indonesia and Vietnam has also surged.

But analysts say there's no long-term market as countries race to meet emissions goals.