China Battles the World’s Biggest Coal Exporter, and Coal Is Losing

Western industrial economies aren't exactly standing in line for Australia's coal

Western industrial economies aren’t exactly standing in line for Australia’s coal

China is forcing Australia to confront what many countries are concluding: The coal era is coming to an end.

China has now officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions that dramatically slowed trade and stranded huge ships at sea.

For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch that eliminates its second-biggest market at a time when many countries are already rethinking their dependence on a filthy fossil fuel that accelerates the devastation of climate change.

While Beijing’s motives are difficult to divine, there are hints of mercantilist protection for local producers and the desire to punish Australia for perceived sins that include demanding an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus. China’s commitment to cut emissions may also allow it to be marginally more selective with its vast purchases.

Whatever the reasoning, the impact is shaping up to be profound for a country that has tied its fate to coal for more than 200 years. Mining policy can still decide elections in Australia and the current conservative government is determined to do the bare minimum on climate change, which has made China’s coal cutback a symbolic, cultural and economic shock.

“A transition has been forced upon us,” said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, an independent think tank. “It’s hard to see how things will really pick up from here.”

The realization, if it holds, may take time to sink in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ridden Australia’s traditional reliance on fossil fuels into power. He famously held up a hunk of coal in Parliament in 2017, declaring “don’t be scared,” and first became prime minister in an intraparty coup after his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, tried to pursue a more aggressive approach to combating climate change.

“Coal-Mo,”as some of his critics call him, dismissed concerns on Wednesday about China’s ban, arguing that there are many other countries still lining up for the product.

“I should stress one point, that our biggest coal-exporting country, the country that takes our exports largest on coal are actually Japan and India,” he said. “So China is not our major importer when it comes to thermal or metallurgical coal.”

While Japan accounted for 27 percent of Australia’s roughly $50 billion in coal exports last year, China was not far behind at 21 percent. India was third at 16 percent.

Mr. Morrison’s faith in coal is hardly unique. The combustible rock is a most Australian product. It was first discovered on the continent in 1797, less than a decade after the first British settlers arrived. Since then, entire communities have been built around not just mines but also sprawling ports where cargo ships lug mountains of coal all over the world.

It is not a huge job producer. Only about 50,000 people worked in coal mining last year in Australia. (Plumbers clocked in at around 80,000.)

But it is a huge moneymaker. Coal production in Australia has more than doubled over the past three decades, with the share that is exported jumping to 75 percent in fiscal 2017, up from 55 percent in 1990.

Coal royalties for one state alone, Queensland, approached $4 billion last year.

And in many areas, from the Hunter Valley a few hours outside Sydney, to Mackay near the Great Barrier Reef, coal has long been a constant. It’s what you see on trains and at sea. It’s what put Australia on the global map. For many, it’s what inspires nationalist pride.

China’s ban, which started gradually reducing imports in August, is deflating that image.

Glencore, one of the largest coal mining companies in Australia, temporarily closed several of its mines in September and October.

In Mackay, where coal volumes from the ports have been dropping, the fear of lost jobs and a lost way of life has been increasing.

The stocks of Australian coal companies collapsed this week after the China news hit the markets.

And there is little sign of improvement. One pricing agency, S&P Platts, has estimated that in the first quarter of next year alone Australia will lose out on sales of up to 32 million metric tons of thermal coal — the coal for power plants — that would have gone to China.

China, in many ways, is simply the face of a more significant global disruption.

Japan announced earlier this year that it would retire about 100 of its most inefficient coal plants and invest in renewable energy. The country’s new prime minister announced in October that it would be carbon neutral by 2050.

South Korea and Taiwan, two other buyers in Australia’s top five, have also announced sharper targets for emission reduction, which would most likely mean less coal.

“It’s not market forces, it’s politics all the way down,” said Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne who specializes in climate change. “The politics leads to a drying up of markets.”

Source: The New York Times

  1. nick1111 says

    Australia is a US whore

  2. cechas vodobenikov says

    racist anglos now defeating themselves crying and complaining

  3. mijj says

    Australians can take comfort that their government will continue their main exports to China of bullshit, pomposity, insults and lies.

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      Why would China need to import what they have surpluses of?

  4. stevek9 says

    Japan screwed itself with its incompetence at its nuclear plant in Fukushima (not protecting backup generators for an entirely predictable flood). If you don’t want coal there is one replacement, nuclear. That is the path Japan was on, but it’s dead now..

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      General Electric built the Fukushima plant.

  5. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

    If the coal era is coming to an end, what is replacing it, with the electric car era coming on?

  6. Udo Bauer says

    “Anti-Empire” again sources NYT–couldn’t get more ironic

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      What would the Udo Bauer network source from?

    2. NightriderXP1 says

      At least this site gets a taste of real news from time to time rather than very bad satire. The problem with that though is that many in this community don’t know the difference between real news and satire, which is why so many members here believe in alternative facts…

      1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

        You are saying that alternative facts are satire?

        1. NightriderXP1 says

          What do you think the word “satire” means???

          1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

            “The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

            1. NightriderXP1 says

              Satire is a genre of literature and performing arts, usually fiction and less frequently in non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement.

              Compare that to “alternative facts“:

              Alternative facts have been called many things: falsehoods, untruths, delusions. An alternative is one of the choices in a set of given options; typically the options are opposites of each other. So to talk about alternative facts is to talk about the opposite of reality (which is delusion), or the opposite of truth (which is untruth).

              If you believe satire, then you believe alternative facts, aka lies (fiction). Satire is written to insult the people who believe it…

            2. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              You write in ways that convey totally different thoughts than you want to.
              You wrote that the “that many in this community don’t know the difference between real news and satire, which is why so many members here believe in alternative facts…” If alternative facts are different from real news, then those who believe real news think alternative facts are satirical, and vice versa.

            3. NightriderXP1 says

              If you believe satire, you believe alternative facts, aka lies. The Babylon Bee writes nothing but satire. It’s deliberately insulting people like you, and sadly, you’re completely unaware of what they’re doing and why…

            4. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              If you regard all alternative facts as lies, you have to believe all propaganda.

            5. NightriderXP1 says

              Alternate facts by definition are lies. The word “alternate” should have tipped you off. Facts are Facts. Alternative Facts are Lies. If you believe Alternative Facts, you believe Propaganda. It’s really not that hard to understand…

            6. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              I don’t consider satire that is not aimed at me insulting, and few writers aim anything at specific people. Ad hominem is far more common than satire, but it is meant to destroy arguments by defaming those one disagrees with, usually because their arguments are unassailable.

            7. NightriderXP1 says

              Satire was written to deceive people like YOU. It’s aimed directly at YOU. They’re laughing at YOU. They’re making fun of YOU. The Onion is actually pretty good at it. The Babylon Bee publishes really crappy satire…

              Now give me something else to laugh at. Tell me that you’ve donated to Trump’s Stop the Steal campaign…

            8. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              The Onion commingles real reportage with satire.
              Your definition of satire is more likely to deceive anyone, but your propaganda is transparent to me.

            9. NightriderXP1 says

              Good satire mixes facts with fiction to make the stories more believable. The Onion is really good at it. The Babylon Bee is not…

              Hostages Trapped Inside Walmart Insisting They Never Shop At Walmart

            10. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              Propaganda mixes lies in to a majority of truth, to deceive those who believe the truths into believing the lies. Satire just makes the same thing funny.

            11. NightriderXP1 says

              Right, you might be starting to understand. There’s hope for you yet. Both propaganda and satire mix fiction with fact to help fool their intended audiences. Both tools are intentionally used to deceive. Once you realize that you’re reading satire, you should be able to understand that the authors know what they’re writing is fiction but do so hoping to see how much BS their audience will believe. I imagine that they’re surprised at how low they can go…

            12. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              The political satires that place some of us into trances are fiction?

            13. NightriderXP1 says

              Do you actually go into a trance when you read and listen to satire? That would probably be an interesting detail that you should tell your psychiatrist the next time you visit…

            14. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              I’ve never donated anything to anything Trump has ever been involved in.
              A monthly income of $1014 doesn’t lend itself to donations.

            15. NightriderXP1 says

              Good. Don’t ever be conned into donating to scams like Republicans love to run to fleece their own supporters. I’m sorry that your income is so low. It would be wise if you are equally careful if you earn a higher income. Hopefully your family and friends are helping you to survive your poverty income…

            16. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              I’m the only survivor in my father’s family.
              The best friends I ever had are all dead, but for one.
              I have spent the last 30 years reducing my cost of living and my lifestyle is luxurious from my point of view.
              Life is easier once one discovers that everything in life is a scam.

            17. NightriderXP1 says

              Life is easier once one discovers that everything in life is a scam.

              I bet you’re fun at parties…

              So wearing coats in cold weather is a scam???

              Anti-Jacketers Rally Outside Burlington Coat Factory To Protest Liberal Cold Weather Conspiracy

            18. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              Staying in cold weather is senseless.
              Parties are pretty boring.

            19. NightriderXP1 says

              Most of the jobs I had during the first half of my life were outdoor jobs. Do you think it’s possible to avoid going outside when it’s cold???

              You do understand that the protest in The Onion video above is satire (fiction), don’t you? For most people, it would be obvious…

            20. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              I’m currently retired from an outside job that I might go back to in the spring.
              The only time I ever had to deal with the cold or the heat was when I wasn’t in the cab.
              I seldom watch embedded videos because it is usually a waste of time and attention.

            21. NightriderXP1 says

              Good luck. I met a guy who walks to a local 7-11 just about every night while I’m walking the dogs at the beach. My dogs absolutely adore him. He’s a nice guy. Apparently he’s been homeless for his entire life, but he likes it. He’s currently living with his elderly grandmother because she can no longer care for herself. She’s 92. Even though there’s plenty of room in the condo, he sleeps outside on the balcony so that he doesn’t get used to A/C and heat. When his grandmother dies, he’ll go back to living under the stars on the streets so he doesn’t want to get spoiled by the A/C/Heat. He’s found a way to live in poverty and enjoy it. It’s not for everybody though…

            22. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

              It is easier to live in poverty when it is planned for.
              I’ve been planning for over 30 years.

            23. NightriderXP1 says

              There’s a saying that I never agreed with. It goes something like this: “It is better to have had then lost than to never have had it.” If you had once been wealthy, it would be really challenging mentally living in deep poverty. Those who have never been wealthy don’t know how much they’re missing out on, so they aren’t psychologically damaged by the situation. Most don’t realize how much better and easier life could be if they were wealthy. Poverty is normal for them…

      2. Marjorie Marshall says

        Get $192 hourly from Google!…(a4190) Yes this is Authentic since I just got my first payout of $24413 and this was just of a single week… I have also bought my Range Rover Velar right after this payout…(a4190) It is really cool job I have ever had and you won’t forgive yourself if you do not check it



  7. thomas malthaus says

    After Fukushima, building nuclear plants are no longer an option for Japan.

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      And they are replacing them with coal-burning plants.

  8. Dr. Gerbs says

    Australia is a hypocritical whore:

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      What else would you expect of a country that started as a penal colony?

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