CANBERRA, AAP – Australia will suffer the biggest losses as China weans itself off imported coal, research shows.

Modelling by researchers at the Australian National University has found China’s demand for coal imports will drop significantly by 2025 even if the unofficial ban on Australian coal ends.

“The recent turmoil in global energy markets will only strengthen Beijing’s resolve to decrease its dependency on them,” lead author Jorrit Gosens said on Thursday.

Before the deep freeze in ties between the two countries, around a quarter of both Australia’s thermal coal used by power plants and coking coal for steelmaking was sold to China – the world’s largest importer of coal.

Now, China is building more transport infrastructure such as rail to get coal from its own mines to power plants and steel factories, and aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060.


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These two factors are expected to slash imports of coal, researchers say.

Dr Gosens has analysed China’s plans for cutting emissions and ongoing investment in infrastructure to reduce its dependence on seaborne coal imports from Australia and elsewhere.

If China’s ambitious climate targets are met, overall thermal coal imports could almost halve by 2025, Dr Gosens warns.

“Even if Australia were to reconcile its current political differences with China, it should expect Chinese demand for its coal to be well below pre-conflict levels, and to keep falling from that level,” he said.

The modelling predicts China’s demand for Australian thermal coal will fall to 30-40 megaton in 2025, down from about 50 megaton in 2019.

“When it comes to coking coal imports, Australia is the country that stands to lose the most,” Dr Gosens said.

Australia’s coking coal exports to China are projected to fall to as low as 20 megaton, down from almost 30 megaton in 2019.

Study co-author Frank Jotzo said the changes in China and elsewhere are putting the squeeze on coal now, not in the distant future.

“Our findings should be of high concern to the coal industry and to Australian governments,” Professor Jotzo said.

“We need to foster alternative economic futures.”

Both the Coalition and Labor support coal as a part of the energy mix, including new projects, despite international momentum.

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has called for the phasing out of coal in OECD nations like Australia by 2030, and by 2040 for the rest of the world, as “climate priority number one”.