BHP, the world’s single largest mining company based on market capitalisation, has an issue with the Australian bushfires. It’s not that millions of hectares have burned, that an estimated billion-plus animals have lost their lives, or that the nation at large is currently breathing some of the most heavily polluted air in the world. It’s not that dozens of people have died or that thousands have been displaced. The issue BHP has with the Australian bushfires is that they’re damaging coal production.
The multinational mining, metals, and petroleum company claimed in an end-of-year operational review that smoke and dust from the fires had negatively affected the air quality at their coal mines in New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia and the one that’s been most widely affected by bushfires. If the air quality continues to deteriorate, they added, “then operations could be constrained further in the second half of the [fiscal] year [ending June 30].”
These constraints have thus far included machinery operating slower than usual as a result of reduced visibility, and staff taking leave throughout December to make sure their houses weren’t burning down—leading to reduced coal production. All of which is bitterly ironic, given the annual fossil fuel emissions produced by BHP, and the fact that experts have linked these bushfires to a changing climate caused by the excessive burning of coal.
Jeremy Moss, a professor from the University of New South Wales, pointed out last year that, "BHP's emissions from its global fossil fuel operations alone were more than the whole of Australia's domestic emissions… If BHP were a country, the products it produces would cause emissions greater than those emitted by 25 million Australians."
Australia exports about AU$67 billion (US$46 billion) worth of coal every year, and is the sixth-largest producer of fuels that release carbon, according to The New York Times. What’s more, a 2019 report from the United Nations Environment Program found that these emissions are expected to double by 2030.
The bushfires, meanwhile, are not expected to end any time soon. While showers have brought some reprieve to many affected communities throughout eastern Australia, high fire dangers are forecast to resume in the coming days and weeks.
“We are likely to see fire conditions once again start to increase towards the end of the week,” Ben Shepherd, from the NSW Rural Fire Service, told The Guardian. “It is likely we will see fire activity increase over these fire grounds.”