Protestors halt the first test train load of coal coming from the controversial Maules Creek coal mine on its way to Newcastle’s Kooragang Island coal export terminals. Photo: Frontline Action on Coal.
Train crash - Australia 'heading backwards' on emissions
Kieran Cooke & Oliver Tickell
19th December 2014
Despite record heat and drought Australia's emissions and coal exports are soaring, says a new report, and both are increasing as a matter of government policy. But a homegrown climate action movement is putting a spanner in the works - and just stopped its first coal train.
Australia's response to climate change is headed completely backwards. If we can stop this new coal mine we set a precedent for the rest of Australia to stand up.
Australia's emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are going up and up - and are set to rise by more than 50% over 1990 levels by 2020, according to new research.
Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent science-based programme that analyses the emission commitments and actions of countries around the world, says Australia's present emission levels are about 31% higher than in 1990 and continue to rise.
"In terms of emission effort, Australia will be going in the opposite direction to China and the US, who are putting effort into reducing emissions", says the CAT analysis.
And that's without taking into account the impact of Australia's massive and increasing coal exports. If included, they constitute the country's single biggest source of emissions - an increasing cause of protest among climate activists (see below).
Pushing the envelope - emissions calculations
The research says Australia has exerted considerable efforts over the years in order to alter the way its emissions are calculated under the terms of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Australia has insisted on including reductions in emissions from land use and forestry in its emissions calculations. As a consequence, it has sought more allowances for emissions from its industrial - mainly mining - sector.
According to CAT, the data supplied by the Australian government on supposed land and forestry emission reductions lacks transparency. And lobbying for such calculation methods - which continued during the recent global climate negotiations in Lima, Peru - goes against the terms of the Kyoto Protocol:
"This is just the most recent example of Australia lobbying for rules that undermine the integrity of the emissions accounting system as a whole and the rules that carve out special exceptions to the detriment of all, but to the benefit of a few."
At the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change, Australia pledged that it would cut its emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.
CAT - a project run by a number of international organisations, including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Ecofys, a sustainable energy consultancy - says its assessment of Australia's emissions' performance is a reasonable, independent and scientifically-based estimate based on available data and the application of the Kyoto rules as they are generally understood.
Australia the 'worst performing industrial country'
Australia was recently named as the worst performing industrial country on the issue of climate change in a report by the Germanwatch think tank and the Climate Action Network, a group that links more than 900 non-governmental organisations around the world.
Since coming to power in federal elections late last year, the conservative coalition government led by Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, has done away with a clean energy bill and championed the country's iron ore and coal mining sectors.
In recent years, Australia has been hit by a series of severe droughts and record-breaking high temperatures, with 2013 the hottest year since records began more than a century ago.
2014's spring weather in Australia has also been unusually hot, with temperatures of more than 40˚C being recorded over several days in parts of the country.
Now the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a return to El Niño conditions at a time when much of Queensland and parts of New South Wales are already drought-declared.
Resistance is growing
This week 22 protestors halted the first test train load of coal coming from the controversial Maules Creek coal mine on its way to Newcastle's Kooragang Island coal export terminals in the early hours of Monday morning.
The train was stopped during the night of 14th December and delayed for over 6 hours by a protester who locked onto locomotives needed to push the coal over the Great Dividing Range. Bruce, a 58 year-old protester from Northern Rivers, was arrested, saying:
"Australia's response to climate change is headed completely backwards. If we can stop this new coal mine we set a precedent for the rest of Australia to stand up."
Jonathan Moylan from Frontline Action on Coal added, "The fate of our country, and people everywhere, depends on coal being left in the ground. In the absence of leadership from the industry or the government to shut down coal exports and prevent dangerous climate change, ordinary people have taken extraordinary action to stop this mine."
Bill McKibben co-founder of the global climate campaign 350.org commented: "On earth, nations are actually trying to figure out, however haltingly, some ways to limit carbon and move into a clean energy future, but in another galaxy down under Aussies are celebrating their latest effort to burn more black rocks. It's fascinating!"
The burning of coal exported from Australia is the country's biggest single contribution to climate change, and production and export of coal increased in the last 12 months.
Kieran Cooke writes for Climate News Network.
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
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