Coal has been apart of the Australian economy for 170 years and his here to stay, according to BHP.
Coal has been apart of the Australian economy for 170 years and his here to stay, according to BHP. Mike Curtain, Rio Tinto Coal Australia

BHP Boss: Coal industry can rise above challenges

BHP Billiton's coal president Mike Henry says the controversial mineral would continue to play a significant role in the global energy mix for decades to come.

Mr Henry was the guest speaker at a packed American Chamber of Commerce in Australia business lunch on Friday at Brisbane's Pullman Hotel.

He said there were certain groups and people in the community resolved to eradicating coal at any cost.

"In the court of public opinion the no-coal camp has been more effective," he said.

"Anti-coal activism has been building momentum over many years.

"Some groups are determined to shut coal down altogether and have a clear strategy to frustrate and delay coal and gas projects, to reduce community support and to influence government policy."

BHP Billiton accounts for more than a quarter of Australia's annual coal exports and 28% of the world's seaborne trade in metallurgical coal.

Its 10 Queensland mines supply coal for both domestic and international customers and are mostly located in the Bowen Basin west of Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone.

Mr Henry told state business and political leaders that BHP Billiton was acutely aware of the risks associated with climate change and the need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

He said coal had played an important role in the wellbeing of so many and believes it will continue to play a significant and positive role in the world's future.

"We have been vocal in our acceptance of the current science on climate change," he said.

"Research also tells us the industry suffers from declining perceptions in the broader community, particularly outside its direct areas of operation.

"This is primarily about coal's role in greenhouse gas emissions and perceptions about its general environmental and social impacts."

"We have advocated for a global policy framework to support emissions reduction, including a price on carbon as part of a portfolio of effective response measures."

Mr Henry said poor returns and little indication of better times in the immediate future, made coal mining a pretty challenging business at the moment.

He said prices for metallurgical coal had fallen 25-30% and thermal coal had fallen 10-15% since the start of the year.

"The financial sustainability of the Australian coal industry is wholly dependent on our ability to improve and sustain levels of productivity and to stay one step ahead of our global competition," he said.

"Governments have a clear stake in this.

"The coal industry is an important part of the Australian economy and it has been for more than 170 years.

"We employ thousands of people in regional areas and we make a significant contribution to federal and state revenues through royalties and taxes.

"I am confident we and others in industry can rise to the challenge, particularly when supported on productivity by the right regulatory reform."