Two recent reports, released separately, forecast higher demand for coal in the next five years and its impact in terms of additional carbon dioxide releases.
The International Energy Agency's Paragon Report predicted global coal demand to go up at an average rate of 2.6 per cent annually over the next five years. The report, based on investing opportunities in the coal industry and equity research, said that by 2017, coal will displace oil as the world's top energy source.
The growth is hinged on Chinese demand for the commodity that by 2017, the world will burn 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal annually.
While this development would benefit Australia and other countries that heavily depend on coal for export and domestic consumption, Greenpeace warned that further expansion of Australia's coal mining sector would make Australia the second-largest contributor of new CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, next to China.
Greenpeace based the estimate on an analysis of the 14 biggest proposed coal, oil and gas developments in the world. If Australia's coal production would expand as planned, it would result in 759 million tonnes of new global CO2 emissions yearly over 2011 levels.
However, in the case of China, the Asian giant would release 1,400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions yearly by 2020.
Greenpeace pointed out that the development of the 14 fossil fuel projects would place more pressure on the world's ability to meet previous targets to limit global warming to an average of two degrees.
The 14 projects would be equal to the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire United States, said the report, prepared by Ecofys, a British sustainability consultancy firm. The total CO2 emissions of the 14 ventures would add an extra 6.34 million tonnes of GHG by 2020, which would further rise to more than 300 billion tonnes by 2050.