Coal destined for power plants in India from a controversial Australian mega coal mine would be unlikely to deliver the cuts to greenhouse gas emissions claimed by government ministers, an International Energy Agency (IEA) analyst has told Climate Home.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers have claimed that climate groups are misguided in attacking the proposed Carmichael mine, because the coal would be better quality than is available from other countries.
Government representatives have named South Africa, Indonesia and Columbia as countries that could supply coal for Indian coal plants – coal that they have claimed is inferior.
Resources minister Matthew Canavan told one interviewer: “We have some of the highest quality coal in the world, so providing India with its energy needs from Australian coal is good for the environment, because it burns at a higher rate and produces less emissions per kilowatt hour produced. It’s higher than that that exists in Indonesia and South Africa.”
But Colin Henderson, an expert advisor at the IEA’s Clean Coal Centre, told Climate Home the energy content of the Carmichael coal “is lower, and the ash content is higher” than was generally being sold by other countries in the coal export market. Lower quality coal produces worse greenhouse gas emissions.
The exception, he said, was Indonesia, from where some coals had “comparable” or lower energy content. The IEA is considered to be an authoritative source of global information on energy.
Last month, Turnbull was asked in the Australian Parliament about his government’s support for the Adani mine, he said stopping the mine “would be no benefit to the global climate whatsoever, because if our coal exports stopped, they would simply be sourced from other countries – obviously Indonesia and Columbia being two that spring to mind immediately, but there are many others.”
Turnbull added: “The reality is that the Australian coal industry produces coal of a cleaner quality, a higher quality, than many of its competitors, with low sulphur and low ash.”
The owner of the Carmichael mine, Indian energy company Adani, has not publicly detailed the energy content of its coal, but Climate Home has reviewed a transcript of a 2015 court challenge to one of the mine’s approvals.
In the Queensland Land Court transcript, Adani’s head of mining operations Llewellyn Lezar says the average energy content of Carmichael coal would be 4950 kilocalories per kilogram and the ash content about 26%. This was reported by the ABC earlier this week.
The Carmichael coal would likely have higher ash content and lower energy content than exported coal from countries including Russia, South Africa and Columbia – three countries that shipped power plant coal to India in 2016.
While exported Australian coal is generally of higher quality than other countries, this would not be the case for coal from the Carmichael mine located in the large untapped Galilee Basin in north Queensland.
The region is identified by Greenpeace as the second largest of 14 global “carbon bombs” being targeted for exploitation by energy companies.
The Carmichael project is one of six mines proposed for the Galilee Basin in Queensland. Henderson said most coal from the basin, if burned in Indian power plants, would produce emissions “similar to those from firing other thermal coals” – although this depended on several factors, including the efficiency of the power plant.
The mine, which would export about 60 million tonnes of coal per year, mainly to power plants owned by Adani, has won all key approvals from state and federal governments, but is still waiting on a final investment decision from Adani.
An Adani spokesperson said: “Galilee coal is cleaner and has higher energy than a range of the coal it will displace from places like Indonesia and indeed India itself where the calorific value is around 3200-3500kcal/kg.
In a statement to Climate Home, Minister Canavan said the coal in the Galilee Basin wasn’t the highest quality coal available in Australia although he said it “is higher quality than the coal in India”.
Canavan, who said the project would create jobs, added: “Adani wants to invest in Australia to access our higher quality coal for use in India to provide electricity and reliable energy, with lower emissions than using locally-sourced coal.
“As Queensland courts have found in relation to another project in the Galilee Basin – the Alpha mine – the mine would not increase the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Clearly, there are both economic and environmental benefits from this project.”
The site of the Adani project is inland from the Great Barrier Reef, where a quarter of corals died as a result of heat stress in early 2016 caused by record ocean temperatures that scientists have linked to the burning of fossil fuels.