As the mining industry meets in Christchurch, Forest & Bird warns that emissions resulting from potential new coal mines on the Buller plateau would equate to increasing New Zealand’s annual emissions by 10%.
Among the topics for discussion at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy conference is “What does New Zealand’s commitment to climate change mean for the future of the coal sector?”
Ministerial briefing papers obtained under the OIA show proposals for mining as much as 62 million tonnes of coal on the Buller plateau over 20 years, and Forest & Bird has calculated that when burnt, this would produce around 186 million tonnes of CO2.
“These mines would create a staggering amount of carbon dioxide. To put it another way, this is the equivalent of an extra five Huntly power stations, or another three million cars on New Zealand’s roads for the next 20 years,” says Forest & Bird Climate Advocate Adelia Hallett.
The coking coal is destined for steel manufacturing in developing countries.
Chris Baker from industry lobby group Straterra, a speaker at the conference, has argued that demand for coking coal will be met regardless of what New Zealand does.
“This approach is devoid of leadership. We are responsible for our actions, and by doing what’s right – what’s imperative for a safe climate – we can seek to influence others,” says Ms Hallett.
“We didn’t say we won’t go nuclear-free because the nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants will just be built somewhere else. We did what was right and in doing so drew global attention to the issue, and helped achieve change.”
Straterra predicts that coal use will increase globally as the world’s population and economy grows.
“We simply don’t have time for that. Experts have warned that it’s critical that we get global emissions trending down by 2020,” says Ms Hallett.
“It’s also an absolute myth that coking coal is ‘cleaner’ than using coal for thermal heating. In steel making, coal is used to generate heat and the vast majority ends up in the atmosphere – only a small proportion is retained in the steel."
The industry also talks up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a solution, but after ten years of research the technology has barely moved on. CCS is also extremely costly and energy intensive to implement.
Ms Hallett says that new approaches are required to make a real difference.
"Around the world, steel producers are increasingly making steel with electric furnaces which have much lower greenhouse emissions, and we could also be recycling vastly more steel than we currently do. There are also exciting new developments such as clean tech company CarbonScape which uses wood waste to create carbon neutral Green Coke for the steel industry.”
As political parties debate who would to more to safeguard our climate, Forest & Bird wants to see a commitment to ending the development of new coal mines.
"As New Zealanders bear the human and financial costs of increased storms and droughts, our wildlife is also experiencing the effects of a warming climate - from hungry yellow-eyed penguins, to pest plagues from more frequent beech seed mast years, and new diseases such as myrtle rust. The last thing we need is runaway climate change,” says Ms Hallett.
"In the 21st century, a responsible government would not be facilitating new coal mines."
- AusIMM conference programme ends today.
- The views of Straterra on the environmental and climate impacts of coal can be found in this op ed and on the Let’s Talk about Coal website.
- According to a Ministerial briefing paper obtained under the OIA, as much as 62 million tonnes of coal could be mined from new coal mines on the Buller plateau, over a 20 year period.
This could create around 186 million tonnes of CO2 over 20 years, as well as 1.4 million tonnes of fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions, which are released as the coal is mined, will need to be accounted for, and paid for, by NZ.
This averages 9.4 million tonnes a year. For comparison, NZ’s annual gross emissions are 81 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
It equates to an extra 3 million cars on the road, or 5 Huntly coal fired power stations (the average family car emits 3 T per year, Huntly emits 2 M T a year).