Unclear claim on steelmaking coal exports

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Does metallurgical coal comprise 65 per cent of Australia's coal exports?

The Statement

"Obviously they (Pacific nation leaders) want to see us reducing our exports of coal. One point I would make is 65 per cent of Australia's coal exports are metallurgical coal - coal for steelmaking - and at the moment there isn't another way of making steel in industrial quantities in the world without using coking coal."

Pat Conroy, federal opposition spokesperson on International Development and the Pacific and spokesperson on climate change. August 13, 2019.

The Verdict

Misleading - The claim is mostly true but somewhat misleading.

The Analysis

Federal opposition spokesperson on International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy stated during an interview on ABC Radio National that 65 per cent of Australia's coal exports are metallurgical coal. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the NSW MP's claim that the majority of Australia's coal exports are metallurgical coal. Australia exports metallurgical and thermal coal. Metallurgical, or coking, coal, is an essential input for making steel. Thermal coal is burned for electricity generation. [2][3]

Mr Conroy spoke on ABC radio about the call from Pacific island nations for Australia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. He said Australia is not responsible for the emissions of coal it exports but must do more to reduce domestic emissions. [1]

Mr Conroy also stated that those calling for a ban on Australian coal exports are referring to thermal coal.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal by volume, exporting approximately 372 million tonnes of coal in 2017, according to figures from the Minerals Council of Australia. Approximately 200 million tonnes of that was thermal coal and 172 million tonnes was metallurgical coal. Accordingly, AAP FactCheck calculated that metallurgical coal exports made up 46 per cent of Australia's coal exports in 2017. [2] [3]

According to the June 2019 Resources and Energy Quarterly report from the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australia is forecast to export an estimated 188 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and 210 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2019-20. AAP FactCheck calculated that metallurgical coal therefore accounts for 47.2 per cent of forecast coal exports by volume and thermal coal accounts for 52.8 per cent of forecast exports by volume. [4]

When contacted by AAP FactCheck, a spokesperson for Mr Conroy referred to the June 2019 Resources and Energy Quarterly report and stated that the 65 per cent figure was a reference to the value of metallurgical coal exports. This is correct: the report lists the forecast value of metallurgical coal exports for 2019-20 as $39 billion and the forecast value of thermal coal exports as $21 billion. AAP FactCheck calculated that the value of metallurgical coal exports in this forecast period accounts for 65 per cent of the value of Australia's coal exports. [4]

Australia's exports of coal have been a focus of negotiations at the Pacific Islands Forum held in Tuvalu from August 13 to 16, 2019. Low-lying Pacific islands are vulnerable to rising sea levels resulting from climate change and Pacific leaders have been increasingly vocal about the need for developed nations, including Australia, to reduce emissions.[5]

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has called on Australia to cut emissions "including not opening your coal mines". [6]

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.7 per cent to a historic high of 33.1 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2018. The IEA said coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions in 2018. Coal-fired electricity generation accounted for 30 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2018, the IEA said, with the majority of that generation found in Asia. [7]

Based on the available evidence, AAP FactCheck finds the claim that 65 per cent of Australia's coal exports are metallurgical coal to be misleading without the clarification that this is when measured by value. While metallurgical coal accounts for 65 per cent of forecast exports in 2019/20 by value, it accounts for 47.2 per cent of the volume of forecast coal exports for the same period. Thermal coal accounts for 52.8 per cent of the volume of coal Australia's forecast exports for the period and 35 per cent of the value.

The Verdict

Misleading - The claim is mostly true but somewhat misleading.

The References

1. 'Scott Morrison will pledge $500m for regional climate resilience at the Pacific Islands Forum on Wednesday'. Radio National. ABC. August 13, 2019. (Time mark 5 min 58 sec): https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/tuvalu-pm-says-foreign-aid-money-no-good-without-climate-action/11411124

2. 'Market Demand Study: Australian Metallurgical Coal. Report to the Minerals Council of Australia.' October 12, 2018 (Page 8): https://minerals.org.au/sites/default/files/181012%20Commodity%20Insights%20Met%20Coal%20Report.pdf

3. 'Market Demand Study: Australian Export Thermal Coal. Minerals Council of Australia.' June 13, 2018: https://minerals.org.au/sites/default/files/180615%20MCA%20Thermal%20Coal%20Outlook%20Study.pdf

4. 'Resources and Energy Quarterly June 2019'. Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Australian Government (Page 13): https://publications.industry.gov.au/publications/resourcesandenergyquarterlyjune2019/documents/Resources-and-Energy-Quarterly-June-2019.pdf

5. 'Global sea level rise is accelerating:Study'. UN Climate Change. February 13, 2018: https://unfccc.int/news/global-sea-level-rise-is-accelerating-study

6. 'Tuvalu's PM says Australia's climate funding for Pacific 'not an excuse' to avoid emissions cuts', by Melissa Clarke. ABC News. August 14, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-13/australias-climate-funding-pacific-islands-forum-tuvalu/11408930

7. 'Global energy and CO2 status report. The latest trends in energy and emissions in 2018'. International Energy Agency. 2019: https://www.iea.org/geco/emissions/

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/