Australia's coal production is booming

AUSTRALIA - Australia is forecast to boost coal production by 30 percent over the next five years, despite plans by Japan, its biggest trading partner, to move towards cleaner energy sources.

According to a study by energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, Australia is set to produce a record 450 million tons of coal annually, with $23 billion to be invested in the sector over the same period, The Age reports. Its current coal production is 350 million tons.

Australia, the world's largest coal exporting nation, has 120 coal mines in operation. By 2015, Wood Mackenzie says, 13 more are expected to come online.

Martin Ferguson, minister for resources and energy, told Australian Broadcasting System that he expects the growth of coal to rise, citing a worldwide increase in energy demand of 40 percent by 2030.

Japan, Australia's largest coal trading partner, purchased 45 percent of Australia's coal in 2008.

About 55 percent of that was thermal coal to fuel power stations, and the rest was for Japan's steel production.

But Australia's coal exports to Japan could be at risk. Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to cut his country's carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020.

''On the face of it, it definitely means less demand for coal,'' said Justin Smirk, a senior economist at Westpac, The Age reports.

''You will see a shift at the margins away from coal towards gas and nuclear, but other than that it's pretty hard to put firm estimates around it until we know more about the policies (of the new administration) and how they are going to be implemented," Smirk said.

In 2004 the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics predicted that coal exports to Japan would be slashed by as much as 25 percent if it were to set an emissions target.

Yet the Minerals Council of Australia said it doesn't expect Japanese demand for coal to fall, noting that Japan plans to add 2,940 megawatts of coal-fired power plants by 2016.

As for China, Ming Sung of the U.S.-based Clean Air Task Force and a former Shell executive said he doesn't believe that China can move away from coal to meet its energy needs anytime soon.

"Not in the foreseeable future, not in my lifetime. Not in my child's lifetime," Sung told ABC.

India could take up some of the slack from any slowdown in Australia's coal exports. Coal India Chairman Partha S. Bhattacharya told reporters early in September that the country's need to source more foreign coal is "urgent," and its economy could adversely be affected by a failure to do so.


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