A ‘developed’, ‘western’ economy with abundant potential renewable energy resources is sure to be heading towards low-carbon energy policy, right?
Sadly, in Australia, this couldn’t be further from the case. Renewables make up just 14% of Australia’s energy mix, with Natural Gas contributing another 13%. This is where it gets ugly: the remaining 73% of the energy mix belongs to coal, the worst of all energy pollutants. Australia has an abundance of coal, and with a well-developed mining sector, it is very cheap energy. The recent controversial repeal of the Carbon Tax by the ruling Liberal Party has only further decreased the cost of coal energy, at the cost of the environment. The repeal has removed any incentive for coal energy firms to become cleaner, despite paying lip service to clean coal and carbon capture schemes. Cuts in renewable energy schemes have also had a devastating effect on the sector, with investment in large-scale renewables dropping by 88% in 2014 compared to 2013.
Where does this stunningly anachronistic energy policy place Australia on the global stage? Quite high in emissions right? In fact, Australia emits more Carbon dioxide per capita than any other western nation. The country in second place, the USA, has a population some 13.8% larger.
The abundance of coal has not gone unnoticed, with Australia currently being the 2nd largest coal exporter in the world. The Australian mining boom can be heavily linked to the Chinese need for natural resources. Gina Rinehart, once the world’s richest woman, made her fortune in the Australian mining industry- at her peak wealth it was stated that she could ‘buy’ the GDPs of the world’s 10 poorest nations and still have $22 billion left over. The smooth sailing has ended, however, with China’s economic slowdown greatly reducing the demand for commodities such as Australian coal. Ironically, it is China that has recently begun to turn away coal from Australia that doesn’t meet new environmental criteria- a move that Australian miners say is entirely politically motivated. The crucial point here, however, is that these exports inevitably still get contribute to climate change through the Chinese energy machine, and go on to emit thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide; just not on Australian soil.