And some people wondered why I paid any attention to the US election. Apart from being the biggest political story in my life, there is that effect that US leaders have even on the other side of the world.
It’s only been five weeks since the inauguration and our largest military ally is already leaning on Australia to get out of coal fired power. To put some perspective on the size of this favour — Coal is our largest single export commodity about half the time, and most years Australia is the largest single exporter of coal in the world. We export more than 400 million tons of coal per annum. We also keep some and use coal to generate more than half our electricity. Even burning through the blackstuff like that, we still have another 300 years of supply underground. It could be very profitable stuff for another twelve generations of Australians. Or not.
So our largest trading partner is launching a trade war and acting hostile, while our largest military ally is saying they want a big favour. How much room is there for Australia to manouver?
Meanwhile last year China built three times more coal power than the rest of the world. The super-factory of the world can’t be too disappointed if the patsy competition vows to try building silicon chips with solar power.
US and Australian voters may not want this, but President Xi applauds John Kerry. Who does he work for?
Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has publicly acknowledged “differences” between the United States and Australia in tackling the climate crisis while calling for a faster exit from coal-fired power.
Kerry’s comments highlighted the increased pressure on Australia to commit to do more before this year’s Glasgow climate conference even though the Morrison government maintains it is “playing its part”.
Kerry would say he is doing it for “the climate” but we all know, if that were true, he’d be leaning on China instead of helping it to gain more factories. It’s never about the actual emissions.
There might be a pattern here:
Just days after Joe Biden nominally won* the electoral college, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison had officially given up the battle to use the spare carbon credits that Australia earned long ago. The nation had met and exceeding the Kyoto agreement, but now the extra credits would be tossed away. Australia didn’t need them to reach the target, he said. But we could have used them, and scaled back on the headlong rush.
Within two weeks of Joe Biden being inaugurated as President* before any public leverage, the Australian PM Scott Morrison was already talking of his “hope to achieve net zero emissions by 2050”.
Sometimes US elections influence Australian policies more than Australian elections do.
Meanwhile, in an odd footnote, even as China has spurned Australian coal of late, John Kerry’s home nation was selling 500% more coal to China to fill the trading hole that was left. Though the US was not a big exporter of coal to start with, only sending 200,000 tons each quarter before the rush up to 1,000,000 tons in late 2020. (What is startling is how small the exports are from the US. They ramped up to 1Mt. We export 400MT each year.).
In the end, as Eric Worrall says, more coal will be burnt than ever under Joe Biden’s time as President*:
Far from cutting coal use, I strongly suspect the Biden administration will preside over the greatest surge in coal demand the world has ever seen.
China and Japan, for all their faults, are doing what the West refused to do – building thousands of new coal plants, helping Africa, Asia and South America to rapidly industrialise, helping them to raise their standards of living to Western levels. In a decade, the smoke of Australian, South African and South American coal will rise over new industrial heartlands in what today are some of the poorest places in the world.