OPINION: Australia’s big bet on coal is about to go from economic saviour to liability as the country burns – by Eric Reguly (Globe and Mail – January 18, 2020)


The Australian economy shares a few sorry traits with Canada’s. Both countries dig enormous amounts of dirty hydrocarbons out of the ground for export. Both made fortunes doing so, for decades. And both might now be questioning whether those wonder products were too much of a good thing as rising temperatures damage, and potentially devastate, natural systems.

Canada’s hydrocarbons come primarily from the oil in the oil sands, more accurately called the “tar sands” by Europeans. The oil sands enjoy sacred status in Alberta and in Ottawa.

The Janus-faced federal government imposes a carbon tax and promises to meet the carbon-reduction targets set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement yet creates the conditions, such as nationalizing a pipeline, to allow – make that encourage – the oil sands to expand.

Australia built virtually its entire economy on the sale of coal and iron ore to overseas buyers. It is the world’s leading exporter of coal, which has fuelled the industrial revolution in China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The exports have propelled Australia’s economic growth for three decades with nary a recession to be seen, not even in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Today Australia is burning, has been for months. In spite of rain this week in New South Wales and Victoria, the southeast regions hardest hit by the bushfires, some 140 fires have yet to be snuffed out and the scorching Australian summer is far from over.

For the rest of this column: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-australias-big-bet-on-coal-is-about-to-go-from-economic-saviour-to/