Australia, Drunk on Coal, Remains World's Largest Carbon Emitter


Photo: ABC Online

The other week both Brian and Matthew posted on the report from the Global Carbon Project that showed carbon dioxide emissions had risen 2% in 2008, even when the economy was supposed to be slowing.

What their posts didn't mention, was that Australia has retained it's unenviable position as the world's worst carbon emitter, per capita. Those Australian politicians bickering over climate change action often say we shouldn't do anything, because we only make up 0.32% of the global population, with 54 nations having more citizens than Australia. Or that our carbon emissions are just 1.43% of the worldwide total. But that view is only one side of the coin.Dr Mike Raupach works in Marine and Atmospheric Research for Australia's peak scientific research organisation, the CSIRO. He was also a core contributor to the aforementioned Global Carbon Project.

Global Context
Placing Australian in a global context he observes that, "On average, each person in Australia and the US now emits more than five tonnes of carbon per year, while in China the figure is only one tonne per year."

He also cites these comparison figures:
• Australia's per capita emissions in 2004 were 4.5 times the global average.
• Australia's carbon intensity of GDP (amount of carbon burned as fossil fuel per dollar of wealth created) is 25 per cent higher than the world average. It is a little higher than the USA and nearly double that of Europe and Japan.
• Over the last 25 years, the average growth rate of Australian emissions was approximately twice the growth rate for world as a whole, twice the growth rate for the USA and Japan, and five times the growth rate for Europe.

Addicted to Coal
Most this problem stems form the fact that 80% of our electricity is derived from dirty old coal.

And as far I can ascertain all the above figure relate only to Australia's emissions within its sovereign borders. They don't, I believe, include the carbon dioxide emissions we export. A full four fifths of the 318 million tons of black coal we mine each year is shipped overseas making it our largest export industry.

So you could say the country best placed to transition to a renewable solar energy industry (we have the engineers, technology and the clear, bright skies) is hopelessly addicted to the worst of all carbon dioxide emitters -- coal.

How addicted? Well, as one example, in the recent amendments made to the Australian governments emission trading scheme they slashed $910 million AUD of assistance to householders, to help fund a total of $7.3 billion AUD worth of carbon pollution permits to electricity generators.

1 Billion Tons of Carbon Dioxide
Getting back to that global context, Energy Daily crunched the numbers. "When factoring in the 80 percent of the coal it exports, along with its own emissions from coal-fired plants, Australian coal is responsible for 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. That's about 8.3 percent of the total global emissions from coal."

Remember Australia is only 0.3% of the world population. Now that is scary.

And this massive coal dependency may be one reason why Australia had such a low score in the latest Happy Planet Index, (PDF) complied by the New Economics Foundation. Australia may have high life expectancy and good life satisfaction ratings, but it is dragged down by its high ecological footprint. Scoring only 104 out of the 143 countries.

More on Climate Change Challenges for Australia
We Win! Australia: The World's Best Carbon Emitters
The Stern Report for Australia From Ross Garnaut
Australia Commits $25.7 Million to Skills for the Carbon Challenge
20% Renewable Energy for South Australia, 10 Years Ahead of Schedule
Australia: The Politics of Environment - A Brief Round-Up
World First? Australia Switches Off Incandescent Bulbs
A Sunburnt Country's Embarrassment of Energy Riches

Tags: Australia | Coal