Coal shipped out of Australia’s ports last year carried 897 million tonnes of embedded carbon dioxide emissions – almost double Australia’s domestic emissions and more than the entire national CO2 emissions of Europe’s biggest emitter and the world’s fourth largest economy Germany. A new interactive tool launched by UK-based climate think tank Ember, which allows users to view the coal export and import flow around the world, reveals Australia was the second most prolific exporter of coal in the world in 2020, shipping almost 368 million tonnes of the fossil fuel. Just behind Indonesia with 372 million tonnes of coal.

Coal Exporters

No other country came anywhere near those two, which together shipped 59 per cent of the world’s seaborne coal. The majority of coal was shipped to China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

While Indonesia shipped slightly more coal, Australia’s coal ports are the biggest in the world. Port Newcastle in NSW is far and away the world’s single biggest coal export terminal, shipping 155 million tonnes of coal export in 2020, with embedded emissions of 378 million tonnes of CO2. The vast majority of that was thermal coal. Globally, Ember said a “staggering” 12 per cent of global coal exports went through Port Newcastle.

Hay Point in Central Queensland is the world’s second biggest coal port, shipping out 100 million tonnes of mostly metallurgical coal, with embedded emissions of 243 million tonnes.

With embedded emissions of 621 million tonnes of CO2, Newcastle and Hay Point together ship out 20 per cent more embedded emissions than Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions of 510 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Apologists for Australia’s lack of aggressive climate policy like to point to the fact Australia’s domestic emissions only make up 1.5 per cent of the global total. But when scope 3 emissions from coal exports are added to the mix, Australia’s share increases to around 3.5 per cent – and that doesn’t include emissions from gas exports.

The sheer volume of coal passing through NSW and Queensland’s ports serves as a sobering reminder of Australia’s reliance on the most climate polluting of fossil fuels, and offers a simple answer to why climate politics remain so difficult in this country.

But even if the domestic politics don’t change, Ember suggested pressure could start coming from the international community. Currently the global climate regime under the UNFCCC focuses heavily on domestic emission, but Ember analyst Nicolas Fulghum said more scrutiny needed to be paid to what countries were exporting.


  1. Joker says:

    If embodied carbon dioxide in coal exports is to be included in our total emissions tally, as it should be, then we may as well increase our coal plant fleet and reduce our export emissions to compensate.

  2. Dudley says:

    As seen in many previous discussions, no correlation exists between atmospheric CO2 and the many global climate changes that have occurred over the past several centuries and the past 15,000 years. The lack of warming between 1945-1979, when emissions were surging, is clear proof of this.

  3. John Christian says:

    I can’t accept the proposition that humans are the cause of climate change because if that were in fact true, the earth entering then leaving the ice age between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago would not have happened. Its not climate that is man made, it is climate alarmism and climate politicisation that is man made. Climate continue changing as it has done for eons and will continue to do so.

  4. Spargo says:

    Don’t worry about the plastic pollution of our planet…better to blame global warming on a trace gas eh?? When will we grow up?

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