Hunting for truth in China's new coal rules

IT IS time for a Hogsback game called Spot The Truth, starting with a question: Is China about to “dump our dirty coal”, or are the general restrictions in China’s coal rules: “unlikely to affect Australian and Indonesian coal exports”?

Tim Treadgold

No prize will be awarded but it is a fair bet that some readers recognise the first part of the question, which comes from a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, as just another piece of coal bashing.

Fewer readers will have seen the second statement, which comes from an analysis of the proposed new rules from the research team at ANZ Bank.

The difference of opinion is startling and only part explained by the ambiguity in what China has announced so far, and the way it proposes to apply different coal-quality rules to different parts of the country.

Coastal cities, which have been hardest hit by environmental pollution, will only be allowed to use the highest quality coal. Further inland and the quality rules will be eased.

However, for alarmist statements to be made about the Chinese rules killing half of Australia’s coal export industry is more than ludicrous, it is simply wrong.

What is particularly annoying about the reporting by newspapers widely regarded as being balanced is that anti-coal activists seem to have taken control of the news agenda.

It is one thing for extreme green environmentalists to ignore the facts in their campaign against coal, but it is disappointing to see mainstream media sucked in by misleading claims.

So, to set the record straight The Hog searched around for a more balanced point of view, and found it in two unusual places, the ABC and a website called Climate Spectator.

The ABC, despite its tendency to be easy prey for extreme greens, does try to achieve a degree of balance. It does not always succeed but there is usually an attempt made to get it right.

Climate Spectator is also run by professionals who are prepared to dig a bit deeper and while its name says all you need to know about its primary focus the latest report on coal was astonishingly well reasoned.

Between the ABC, Climate Spectator and the ANZ Bank it is possible to cut through the excited rubbish of the dark greens to arrive at the truth, which is that China’s new coal rules will have a minimal impact on Australian coal exports.

The ABC’s coverage acknowledged there were uncertainties about how the coal rules would work, but it also hunted down a few experts who went as far as to suggest the new laws would actually benefit Australian coal.

Chinese producers of low-quality coal will be the hardest hit, the ABC noted in a report from the investment bank, Citi.

“The regulations are far milder for coal imports than the market had feared,” Citi analyst Ivan Szpakowski said.

“In fact, they are likely to have a greater impact on domestic supply.”

Climate Spectator started its report by saying green groups would be “leaping for joy at some of the stories in today’s newspapers suggesting that Australian coal would be hit hard” by China’s new rules – but then concluded that “in reality this move by the Chinese government could possibly help Australian producers”

For a news site that is very much focused on climate change, global warming and other fashionable environmental causes the comments from Climate Spectator were nothing short of miraculous.

Climate Spectator went a step further and quoted a research note from investment bank, Morgan Stanley.

“Up to 39% of Australian exports are potentially impacted, but only a portion of this actually goes to China,” the note says.

“We have made a cursory review of Australian stock exchange miners under [our] coverage and determine that no, to low, earnings impacts are implied.”

Despite Morgan Stanley’s appalling grasp of the English language the message was crystal clear – a no, to low, effect of the new Chinese coal rules.

Against those views there was the rather lonely opinion of The Hog’s favourite extreme green group, which calls itself the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

According to its spokesman, Australia’s export coal industry is “at serious risk”

“Claims made overnight by some industry lobby groups suggesting there is no impact are misleading and seem to be divorced from reality,” the Energy Institute said.

Well, it might come as a surprise (not that anyone at the dark green Energy Institute will admit it) but it is not just the coal industry saying little to no impact.

It is a collection of some of the world’s top investment banks, including Citi and Morgan Stanley, along with the major coal exporters, including BHP and Rio Tinto.

Chinese new coal rules are a significant development in that country, but they certainly do not threaten the Australian coal industry.

The truth is the new rules might even help boost exports.

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