Feb 15, 2019

Australia's coal exports are booming despite climate change concerns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

NEWCASTLE, Australia — Coal exports out of this resource-rich nation brought in record-high revenue last year, according to government data released this month.

The big picture: As concerns about climate change grow, coal is considered on its way out. But for many growing economies in Southeast Asia that are Australia's biggest coal customers, it's often seen as the preferred, cheapest electricity option.

Driving the news: Coal exports brought in a record $66 billion (in Australian dollars) in export value last year, according to data from the government's Bureau of Statistics released earlier this month.

  • The data also shows that coal surpassed iron ore to become the biggest export in Australia, one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels and other resources.

The intrigue: Earlier this week, I visited coal-export terminals in Newcastle, a couple hours' drive north of Sydney. The collective volume of approximately 160 million tons a year makes the area the single biggest port for coal exports in the world, according to executives at the Port Waratah Coal Services, which runs the largest operation on site here.

  • The expansive terminal sits along the banks of the Pacific Ocean along Australia's Southeast coast and loads 10,000 tons of coal an hour onto ships.
  • The company receives 35 to 40 trains of coal a day from the nearby Hunter Valley, which is known for its coal mines and wineries.
  • About 1,300 ships a year come through Port Waratah's operations, sending the coal mostly to Southeast Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea.

Between the lines: The type of coal exported from Newcastle is considered a cleaner type compared to the world’s other big coal exporter, nearby Indonesia. This is why Australia’s coal producers think they can thrive in a world addressing climate change.

"There's definitely industry recognition that the world is on a certain path. The industry in Hunter Valley expects to be a part of the thermal coal picture for as long as there is a significant thermal coal industry on the basis of having a superior product that’s accessible to large parts of what is going to be longer term markets."
— Hennie du Plooy, CEO, Port Waratah Coal Services

What's next: du Plooy says growth is expected to remain stable through at least the next decade or more due to demand from Southeast Asia. This contrasts with government policy moves in places like Europe, much of which is looking to shut down coal plants due to climate-change concerns.

  • The big looming challenge for Australian producers is to what degree permits for new coal mines in Hunter Valley and elsewhere are rejected on the basis of climate change concerns, based on a potential precedent setting court ruling just this month. That would erode supply for the export market over time.

Go deeper: The world needs clean coal but can't get it

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 mins ago - Health

Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness in COVID-19 the treatment has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

Go deeperArrow25 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.