Australia is gearing up to import greenhouse gases from some of Asia’s biggest emitters as the government introduces new laws that will allow international pollutions to be buried in carbon capture and storage projects in local waters for the first time.
Japan and South Korea, backed by the gas industry and International Energy Agency, have been lobbying Australian government to allow shipments of carbon pollution and other marine waste to bypass restrictions implemented in 1972 under the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, known as the London Protocol.
Last month, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek lodged in parliament a bill to enable carbon pollution to be imported to Australia, which is expected to be voted into law with support from the Opposition. Plibersek said her bill “implements Australia’s international obligations under the London Protocol”.
The London Protocol bans the export of carbon pollution to bury it under the sea, but by reforming the laws, Australia could join a group of countries like South Korea, UK, Norway and Iran which have adopted the “provisional application” of rule changes to allow international export and import of carbon pollution.
Carbon pollution importation will be controversial in the country as the Greens reject to CCS technology and environment groups argue it prolongs the use of fossil fuels and delays the deployment of clean energy.
The Global CCS Institute published a report last year that found Australia could be an “anchor nation” for international trade of carbon pollution in the Southern Hemisphere, with strong interest in exports from countries with poor geology for carbon sequestration like Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Emissions from gas and coal plants, as well as factories, could be pumped into ships or under-sea pipelines and sent to Australia.
Australian gas giant Santos is developing the Bayu-Undan project to bury CO2 beneath ageing gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher said in April that CCS was a chance to “establish a new, large-scale industry producing carbon offsets that will be in heavy demand from emitting countries that lack Australia’s competitive advantages.”
The industry push has been supported by Australian government, with Resources Minister Madeleine King declaring CCS as the “single biggest opportunity” to reduce emissions in the energy sector. King said in May that gas companies must pay their own way to develop CCS projects.
But questions also remain about getting the technology to work at scale, given the continued underperformance of Chevron’s Gorgon CCS project in Western Australia, which is the world’s biggest commercial project.