Australian coal: a recipe for climate disaster

by Aaron Gray-Block

September 20, 2012

Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest on the Queensland coast. Already under stress from the impacts of climate change such as ocean acidification and temperature rise, the Great Barrier Reef is now under further threat from Australia's coal boom. Inland coal mines will transport the coal to shipping ports along the Queensland coast to be shipped through the Reef resulting in a massive increase in shipping through the World Heritage area. The proposed developments prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee to consider placing the GBR on the World Heritage in Danger list. Greenpeace is calling for a moratorium on all developments in the region until a Strategic Assessment of the impacts of the developments has been completed.

© Darren Jew / Greenpeace

The Great Barrier Reef is now under further threat from Australia's coal boom

Everything about the Galilee Basin in Australia is epic. Its name, its size and sparse beauty as well as the enormous amount of coal buried just under the soil and the scale of mining being proposed to dig it up. Just take a look at these photos to grasp the size we’re talking about.

But eclipsing all of this are the epic consequences if this coal is mined and burnt and this remains true whether the coal is burnt in Australia or in India or China.

Greenpeace Australia has just released a new report revealing that if the coal in the untapped Galilee Basin in Queensland is mined, Australia could create more carbon pollution than the entire emissions of the United Kingdom or Canada.

That’s a lot of global warming.

And yet, the push to open up these mines coincides with adramatic melting of Arctic sea ice this year, with the amount ice coverage plunging to a new record last month.The dramatic melt has continued in recent weeks

The Australian government, however, seems intent on exploiting the Galilee coal reserves and the Greenpeace Australia report,Cooking the Climate and Wrecking the Reef,is the first time the greenhouse impact of the proposed mines has been quantified.

And its not just bad news for Australia.

The Galilee Basin is a ticking carbon time-bomb that will wreak havoc on our climate if the fuse is lit. The atmosphere doesnt recognise one country from another all the garbage thrown up there eventually hurts all of us.

Nor is this just a question for the Australian government. All the major political parties in Australia have committed to the aim of keeping global warming under the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius.

The time available to keep that promise is limited and mining the Galilee Basin will take us a long way in the wrong direction.

Australia has begun the process of approving up to nine new mega mines, five of which would be bigger than any existing coal mine in Australia.

If these mines proceed, when they reach maximum production, the emissions from burning the coal would be 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. If the Galilee Basin were a country, it would be the seventh biggest emitter of carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels in the world.

And apart from becoming a key driver in global warming, these mines will also exact a terrible cost on farms, water supplies and coastal communities.

They would also put one of the worlds greatest natural treasures Australias Great Barrier Reef under very serious threat.

UNESCO has already warned that the reef may be considered for listing as a world heritage site in danger within the next year.

Ultimately, global warming is placing the reef’s future at risk as coral is extremely sensitive to even short periods of increased sea temperatures, resulting in coral bleaching.

In addition, the reef stands between the Galilee Basin mine proposals and the power generation stations of Asia: mining the Galilee means new coal ports, millions of tonnes of dredging, and thousands more coal ships making their way through the Reef every year.

Thats why we are calling for a halt to the massive expansion of coal mining and export infrastructure proposed for Queensland. How we deal with the Galilee will shape the future of our children and our grandchildren.

The government must face up to the reality: what others do with Australian coal is its responsibility as well. Climate change, after all, will affect us all.

By Aaron Gray-Block

Aaron Gray-Block is a crisis response campaigner with Greenpeace International.

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