Despite pledging a more ambitious climate agenda, Albanese’s Labor government has confirmed its support for the mega-polluting Scarborough-Pluto gas project in Western Australia. The AUD $16.5 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, owned by energy giant Woodside, would result in climate-heating emissions, equivalent to over 15 new coal-fired power stations. 

Albanese promised Australians that Labor wanted to end the “climate wars“. However, new Resources Minister Madeleine King has confirmed it will “absolutely not” be more difficult to develop new fossil fuel projects under their leadership. This is despite the fact that the International Energy Agency (IEA) clearly states that any new investments in such projects are incompatible with the 1.5°C pathway. Experts also express doubt that Labor can simultaneously embrace gas expansion and reduce emissions to its target of 43 per cent by 2030, which the Party will soon enshrine in law.

Australia’s damaging fossil fuel industry

Woodside’s Scarborough-Pluto project is the most polluting fossil fuel project currently proposed in Australia. However, it is just one of 114 overall in Australia’s pipeline. Together, they would result in the equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of 1.7 billion tonnes annually. This is comparable to building over 200 new coal power stations. 

An investigation led by the Guardian names Australia as one of the countries with the most extensive fossil fuel expansion plans and the highest number of ‘carbon bombs’. The latter refers to projects resulting in at least one billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetime.

Over the past three years, Labor has received AUD $392,354 in donations from fossil fuel companies, backing large gas projects across Australia. By far, the biggest single donor was Woodside Energy. The company contributed AUD $108,350 to Labor over the period. This amount is not significantly less than the AUD $124,000 that Woodside also funded to the former climate-sceptic former coalition.

What is the Scarborough-Pluto project?

The Scarborough-Pluto gas project is the first major component of Woodside’s Burrup Hub development — the most polluting fossil fuel expansion ever proposed in Australia. Calculations have found that the Burrup Hub would release around six billion tonnes of direct and indirect carbon pollution across its lifetime.

The Scarborough-Pluto LNG expansion consists of the following developments:

  • Drilling and extracting gas beneath the seabed 435 kilometres off the Pilbara coast
  • Connecting this gasfield by pipeline to the existing Pluto LNG facility on the Burrup Peninsula
  • Doubling the size of the Pluto LNG facility to process additional gas for export
  • Extending the operating life of the Pluto facility until at least 2055

Woodside claims expanding its LNG production to export will reduce emissions globally by replacing more polluting energy sources abroad. But, this claim has been debunked by a CSIRO report. Woodside initially buried this report, which only came to light after a freedom of information request and when it was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Analysis by Climate Analytics has also discredited Woodside’s claim. “The bottom line is that adding the amount of LNG planned from this project is likely to slow down decarbonization in key markets and add significantly to global emissions”, writes Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics and a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. 

The climate impact of the Scarborough-Pluto gas project

The Climate Analytics report found that the entire Scarborough-Pluto project will emit almost 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) over its lifetime. This is equivalent to three times Australia’s current annual emissions. “It’s clear the Scarborough-Pluto project is not compatible with the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5℃ this century”, said Hare.

In another report, Why gas is the new coal, Climate Analytics writes, “What is striking about this development is that the planned start-up for Woodside’s Pluto project coincides with the projected peaking [2026] of LNG demand from Australia on a Paris Agreement compatible pathway that meets the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C and net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.” This demonstrates that Australia will be ramping up a vast LNG supply, just when the global market is set to decline and emissions must be slashed. This risks stranded assets and commits Australia as an outlier in a decarbonising world. 

Scarborough-Pluto threatens Indigenous heritage

As well as the climate impact, the emissions from Woodside’s Scarborough-Pluto project threaten the region’s cultural heritage. Traditional Custodians of one million ancient rock engravings in Western Australia’s Pilbara are demanding that Woodside listens to them before seeking environmental approval for the controversial development near the World Heritage-nominated art. Instead, Woodside is said to be consulting with an Indigenous body “that does not have the full support of its community and is described by a former chair as co-opted by industry”. 

Labor’s support for fossil fuels betrays climate hope

Woodside’s Scarborough-Pluto project is just one of the many ‘carbon bombs’ that endanger critical global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement. Labor’s support for these mega-polluting fossil fuel projects – support that is arguably indistinguishable from that of the previous coalition – will not wash with the international climate community and its own citizens who expect so much more from Labor and its climate pledges.

Expanding renewables at home while exporting fossil fuels abroad is simply not a credible pathway to stay within the 1.5°C pathway. Global heating beyond this point would be “catastrophic” to our Pacific Island neighbours, and it is a betrayal to all our allies fighting to ensure a safer future.