The Rudd Government’s  Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has stirred up debate about how Australia should deal with its domestic emissions, but the export coal ‘elephant’ is being ignored.

It’s time that Mr Rudd’s plans to double the export coal industry, and the obvious contradiction between this and his climate change rhetoric, are put under the spotlight.

Planned export coal expansions during the first two years of the Rudd Government total nearly 50 million tonnes, a 20% increase. By 2030, planned expansions will create more emissions globally than Australia’s current national total. And the Government is already preparing the ground. In April, Environment Minister Peter Garrett gave environmental approval for a $1.3 billion expansion of Gladstone coal port in Queensland. In their first Federal Budget, Rudd’s Government refused to wind back fossil fuel subsidies and allocated $20 billion to infrastructure development, most of which will be spent on increasing coal rail and port capacity.

The ALP also affirmed their allegiance to the coal industry by allocating $500 million to so-called clean coal, a relationship they cemented with their CPRS last week and this week’s announcement of two new bodies to drive clean coal. The CPRS will include compensation to coal-fired power generators and a $5 billion allocation from the revenue to be spent largely on the false hope of clean coal. Just think what this kind of backing could do for renewable energy.

On the eve of the announcement of the CPRS, painted as the big policy solution to Australia’s carbon emissions, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh unveiled plans for a $5.3 billion expansion of her state’s export coal capacity. This shows just how blatantly our politicians are dichotomising domestic and export emissions.

Of course it doesn’t matter where coal is burnt, because carbon dioxide knows no borders. We can’t save the Great Barrier Reef by exporting emissions. A recent poll commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Essential Research shows that 82% of Australians want our coal exports to be either capped or reduced. Australians realise that domestic emissions and export coal are not separate issues, and want to see the climate change leadership they were promised during the election.

However, the message doesn’t appear to be filtering through. Addressing the Queensland Press Club this week, Peter Garrett defended his decision on Gladstone by pointing to the Government’s “strong commitment” to developing carbon capture and storage (CCS). He glosses over the fact that the earliest it is hoped CCS will be commercially viable is 2015-2020. The massive increase in carbon emissions we’ll be shipping overseas in the meantime is conveniently ignored.

Mr Rudd cannot claim to recognise the science behind climate change, and the urgent need to act, while simultaneously approving export coal expansions.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.