Australia’s Catastrophic Floods Shut Down its Coal Exports

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Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world. It is also one of the first nations to have been hit really hard by destabilizing climate change.

A decade of devastating drought has brought the continent waves of farmer suicides, devastating state-wide wildfires, has cut rice crops 98%, and forced governments to choose between growing crops and keeping coal plants supplied with water to produce electricity.

Now an area the size of France and Germany combined is submerged in the kind of catastrophic flooding long warned of by climate scientists as the sort of weather to expect to see more often as a result of adding more heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Pakistan suffered similarly catastrophic floods in the summer of  2010, which was the hottest year in history, according to NASA (together with 2005). The next warmest years are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006,  (and 2007 and 2009 are tied for third hottest) according to NASA data. Along with rising average global temperatures, droughts, wildfires and floods are the result of increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Ironically, the floods themselves have forced the shut-down of the very coal exports that are primarily responsible for Australia’s contribution to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change that is causing an increase in catastrophic floods.

Australia’s high carbon footprint comes not so much from its 20 million people as from its exports: practically the entire state of Queensland is dug up and shipped to China for the coke needed in steel-making.

But with flooded open-pit coal mines and washed out rail lines throughout Queensland, nearly 14 million tonnes of coking coal is already removed from world markets, according the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Pumping water out from the state’s coal pits will be a massive project, according to mining minister Martin Ferguson. Mining companies Anglo American and Rio Tinto have been forced to declare force majeure as coal exports have been reduced to a trickle.

Due to this catastrophe, coking coal prices could rise from a baseline of around $100 (before smaller-scale Queensland floods in 2008) to above $300 a ton.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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