Amidst the rubble of international and Australian climate change policies a remarkable expansion of the Australian resources sector continues.
A new mega-mine, the Carmichael Coal Mine, is now proposed in Queensland, Australia, by a subsidiary of the Indian-based Adani Group. It will produce around 60 million tonnes of thermal coal for 150 years.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the mine is estimated to have an indicated and inferred resource of 7.8 billion tonnes of thermal coal.
No details of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the mine have yet been published but a very rough calculation of the total GHGs that will be produced by the mining and burning of the coal from it can be done using the formulas and figures set out in the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Measurement) Determination 2008.
Based on this methodology the mining and burning of coal from the Carmichael Coal Mine will produce around 20 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the 150 year life of the mine. This figure is a rough estimate only and there are significant uncertainties that cannot be resolved without detailed information on the coal resource and mining methods (which the proponent has yet to provide).
In the absence of more detailed calculation of the GHG emissions being supplied by the proponent, the figure of around 20 gigatonnes of CO2 from the mining and burning of the coal at least gives a rough estimate of the total GHG emissions from the mine. These emissions are truly enormous on a national and global scale. They are equivalent to around 36 years of direct emissions from the whole of Australia based on current levels of emissions of around 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (excluding LULUCF).
The emission of 20 billion tonnes of CO2 from the mining and burning of coal from the Carmichael Coal Mine alone will add around 1 ppm to atmospheric CO2 levels based on current levels of global emissions of around 32 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents/yr and corresponding annual rises in atmospheric CO2 of 1.6 ppm/yr.
The fact that the coal from the mine will be produced over 150 years means little for the atmosphere given the fact that the CO2 released by the burning of coal will continue to affect the atmosphere for “300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever” (Archer 2005).
Despite the enormity of the greenhouse gas emissions involved the mine is certain to be approved by the Australian Government and the State Government in Queensland.
The Australian Government’s commitments to prevent dangerous climate change while at the same time allowing massive expansion of coal mines is, as John Podesa put it, like “trying to ride two horses galloping in opposite directions.”
This coal mine brings Elizabeth Kolbert’s closing lines in Field Notes from a Catastrophe to mind:
“It may seem impossible to imagine that that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”