The Australian government will face decisions on whether to greenlight 30 fossil fuel developments, mainly to export coal or gas, which together could result in the release of more than 20 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere .
Climate groups have calculated the total potential climate pollution from fossil fuel developments currently submitted for environmental approval. Including emissions released during production and when the fossil fuel is ultimately burned for energy – often in power plants abroad – they found that the developments could lead to an additional 22 billion tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. .
This is around 10 times higher than Australia’s remaining 1.5°C “carbon budget” estimates – the total amount the country can release domestically over the next few years if it is to play its part in limiting warming to the global target of 1 .5ºC.
In other words, it represents around 40% of annual global emissions.
Given that CO2 would be released overseas if developments proceed, most emissions would not count for Australia under international climate accounting rules. But campaigners say this shows that the impact of the country’s exports could dwarf the emissions reductions being implemented domestically, and the government cannot claim to be tackling the climate crisis without addressing both.
Presenting an annual climate statement to parliament on Thursday, Bowen said he was pleased with the government’s progress as it is “within striking distance” of its 2030 emissions target – a 43% cut compared to with 2005 levels – but that “he is still not satisfied” and the “work is far from finished”.
Shiva Gounden, head of Greenpeace in the Pacific, said Australia made an outsized contribution to global emissions as the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels. He said he was frustrated by Australia’s lack of ambition in participating in the UN’s Cop28 climate summit, which kicked off in the UAE on Thursday.
“Does Minister Bowen think we will be so distracted by progress towards 43% that we will fail to see the colossal elephant in the room – the 22 billion tonnes of emissions generated if all these new coal and gas projects went ahead?” Gounden said.
“With the hottest year on record as a backdrop, Cop28 should be a moment of reckoning with fossil fuels. There is no scenario in which the expansion of coal and gas is compatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
“By exporting fossil fuels we are simply exporting climate damage.”
Speaking at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on Thursday before flying to Cop28, Vanuatu’s climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, said the Australian government told him it expected many ongoing fossil fuel projects did not go ahead.
“We hope this is the case and we call on Australia to take a stronger stance to stop them,” he said. “I’m still concerned because there hasn’t been much in terms of production disruption and fossil fuel subsidies.”
The list of developments was compiled by Greenpeace using data from Climate Analytics, Sunrise and documents submitted to the government by fossil fuel companies.
The largest fossil fuel development facing approval is the multi-stage expansion of gas extraction and processing in northern Western Australia, centered on the Burrup Hub. It includes the Scarborough and Browse gas fields and a proposed 50-year extension to Woodside Energy’s Northwest Shelf liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing facility. Altogether, it was concluded that it could lead to 6.1 billion tonnes of emissions.
Other major emitting developments on the list include the expansion of two open pit metallurgical coal mines operated by BHP Mitsubishi Alliance. He said a potential 93-year extension to the life of the Peak Downs mine could lead to 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2, and a 90-year extension to the Blackwater South mine could contribute 2 billion tonnes.