‘Scorched Earth Policy’: Inside Australia’s Plans to Triple Its Fossil Fuel Emissions

“It will make every aspect of the quality of life in Australia, and around the world, worse.”
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
The Australian government is planning to build enough coal and gas mines to triple the country's annua emissions. Photo by Paul Kane / Stringer

Australia continues to lean into its reputation as a global pariah on climate policy, as the government plans to expand the country’s fossil fuel sector and build ​​more than 100 new gas and coal projects that would result in almost 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2e emissions annually – almost double the amount produced by global aviation.


If all 116 of those projects go ahead their collective carbon footprint will be equivalent to over 200 new coal power stations – four times the amount currently planned by China – and 24 times the annual emissions of all 14 Pacific Island countries – many of which are explicitly demanding that countries like Australia end fossil fuel production and expansion. It will also be more than three times Australia’s current annual emissions, according to a worrisome new report from the Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program. 

“These are not abstract numbers,” Mark Ogge, report co-author and principal advisor of the Australia Institute, told VICE. “They will drive ever-worse and more frequent fires, droughts, heatwaves and floods. It will wreck our agriculture and endanger our food supply. It will make every aspect of the quality of life in Australia, and around the world, worse. It is a scorched earth policy and is grossly irresponsible.”

Ogge noted that the Australian government’s plans for an expansion of fossil fuel production were “of immense concern for Australia and the rest of the world.” They also fly in the face of the government’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 – a pledge that experts have already accused of being spurious and unambitious. 


While the United States has said it will reduce emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030, and Britain has vowed to cut them by 78 percent by 2035, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stubbornly refused to ramp up short-term reductions. Some experts have claimed that even the 2050 plan relies on “gross manipulation” of data, including an over-estimation of how much carbon dioxide can be stored in trees and soil.

In light of the 100-plus gas and coal projects in the pipeline, however, Ogge labelled the net zero 2050 promise a “complete fraud.”

“The Australian Government is not taking the climate crisis seriously at all,” he said. “To be aggressively pursuing a massive fossil fuel expansion in the face of devastating climate impacts in Australia is breathtaking. Australia faces enormous increases in heatwaves, fires, drought, flood, loss of farm income and ecosystem collapse. Allowing this expansion of fossil fuels is throwing fuel on the fire and will make all of these things worse. Their actions show they simply don’t care.”


It’s worth noting that Morrison has been quite forthright and unapologetic about his refusal to toe the line and phase out fossil fuels – even while insisting that Australia is “getting it done on emissions reduction” and claiming that “that is the Australian way.”

“Australians will set our own path to net zero by 2050, and we'll set it here by Australians for Australians,” Morrison said in a press conference last week. “[Our plan is] not a plan at any cost … It will not shut down our coal or gas production or exports … It is not a revolution, but a careful evolution to take advantage of changes in our markets.”

The non-revolutionary plan Morrison was referring to states that Australia’s exports of coal and gas – already the biggest in the world – “will continue through to 2050 and beyond.”

“​​We will continue to export our traditional energy exports for as long as our customers demand them,” reads the report on Australia’s long-term emissions reduction plan. “If we were to withdraw supply and reduce our exports, other countries would fill the gap in supply.”

In other words: If we don’t keep throwing fuel on the fire, someone else will.

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