CANBERRA, Australia — A world determined to limit climate change needs fewer coal mines. Burning coal is the largest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions, and the particles from its combustion are a major cause of air pollution, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
Despite agreeing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at a global climate-change conference in Paris last year, the Australian government has recently given the go-ahead to a private company to open Australia’s biggest coal mine. The state government has declared that the new mine, owned by the Indian Adani conglomerate, is a piece of “critical infrastructure.”
Australia is big in coal. It has a larger share of the export market than Saudi Arabia has of the oil market. Since world leaders agreed in 1992 that climate change was real and that fossil-fuel consumption must decrease, Australian coal exports have more than tripled — from around 125 million tons a year to about 388 million tons. And Australia is intent on producing more. Current proposals for new coal mines would result in another doubling of exports.
A year ago, the Australian coal industry was struggling with low prices, following the end of a five-year boom. But this year the price of coal has more than doubled as the market has caught up to the big reductions in supply from countries like China, Indonesia and the United States, all of which have announced temporary stops on building new coal mines. The owners of existing mines have seen their profits soar over the last year.
Most people would be skeptical of a tobacco company that simultaneously claimed it supported efforts to curb smoking while building a new cigarette factory.
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