The coal that will likely be developed just in Australia could take up 75 percent of what the world can still burn while staying under two degrees Celsius of global warming. That’s according to the latest report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI).
Building off additional work by the International Energy Agency, the CTI determined that for the world to have an 80 percent chance of staying under the two degree target until 2050, no more than 200 to 360 additional gigatons of carbon emissions can be produced by burning coal. The Australian coal reserves already owned by companies account for 51 gigatons, and the remaining goal reserves that the CTI expects to be exploited would add another 100 gigatons.
In short, the coal that Australia alone is expected to provide the world all could chew up as much as three-fourths of what we can still burn without driving ruinous climate change:
Just in 2012, the Australian economy invested $5.71 billion in Australian dollars to develop coal reserves that can’t be burned if we’re going to adhere to the two degree target. Globally, the investment in unburnable fossil fuels has reached $674 billion in U.S. dollars per year. Either that money goes to waste, or the climate will be catastrophically destabilized.
Australian coal export expansion was also one of 14 “carbon bombs” — anticipated projects that could push global warming past the two degree threshold — listed by Ecofys and Greenpeace in January. If the expected expansions of the country’s coal exports occur as planned, global carbon dioxide emissions could rise by 1.2 billion metric tons a year. And that’s just one of the fourteen examples.
That said, awareness of the problem is certainly growing in the country: Australia just endured a summer of record-breaking brush fires, heat waves, and flooding — which the government’s climate commission determined can be linked to climate change. The government also recently passed a carbon tax, and studies suggest Australia’s power supply could go 100 percent renewable by 2030.
But starting in 2015 the price the policy puts on carbon is scheduled to be pegged to the European Union’s carbon trading scheme — and the E.U. carbon price has been rather dysfunctional as of late. The good news is that the price of wind is already outperforming fossil fuels, even without the assistance of government policy, and solar isn’t far behind on that trend.