Greenhouse gas emissions by Australia

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Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world, with 0.003% of the world's population it produces 1.3% of the world's greenhouse gases.[1] It was 18.3 tonnes per year per person and the 11th highest in the world per capita in 2009. Australia uses principally coal power (70%) for electricity, with the remainder mainly gas, with no nuclear, low levels of hydro power, and low, but increasing, levels of solar, wind and wave power.

Total contribution[edit]

The Australian government estimates that Australia's net emissions in 2017 were 556.4 million tonnes CO
-equivalent, to which the sectoral contributions were approximately as follows: electricity, 33%; transport, 18%; stationary energy(excluding electricity), 17%; agriculture, 13%; fugitive emissions, 10%; industrial processes 6%; waste, 3%.[2] This includes about 13% for non-elecricity residential use.[3]

Of the 190 million tons emitted for Electricity in 2017, 20 million tons was for primary industry, 49 million tones for manufacturing (which might include aluminum smelting), 51 million tons Commercial, Construction and Transport, and 33 million tons Residential. [3]

Cumulative historical contribution[edit]

The World Resources Institute estimates that Australia was responsible for 1.1% of all CO2 emissions between 1850 and 2002.[4] This is about 3 times larger than Australia's share of global population, roughly a third of a percent as of 2013.

Projected contribution[edit]

According to the no-mitigation scenario in the Garnaut Climate Change Review, Australia's share of world emissions, at 1.5% in 2005, declines to 1.1% by 2030, and to 1% by 2100.[5] There is currently no policy framework for reducing emissions at a national level in Australia, with the Deputy PM Michael McCormack describing a recent IPCC special report as "just...some sort of report".[6]

Analysis of Australia's emissions[edit]

Some of the reasons for Australia's high levels of emissions include:-

  • Australia smelts Aluminium, which is then exported and used elsewhere. This accounts for some 15% of electricity consumed.
  • Australia has no nuclear power, very limited hydro electricity (4%), and minimal geothermal opportunities. 77% of electricity comes from coal, and 15% from gas.
  • A warm climate results in high use of air conditioning but limited needs for heating.
  • The effect of agriculture.

Measuring production vs consumption of carbon products[edit]

The import and export of goods confounds equitable measurements of emissions, particularly in the context of endeavouring to reach a global agreement on emissions reduction based on contraction and convergence. Australian emissions are monitored on a production rather than a consumption basis. This means that the emissions from the manufacture of goods imported into and consumed within Australia, for example many motor vehicles, are allocated to the country of manufacture. Similarly, Australia produces aluminium for export which requires substantial amounts of electricity which is produced by greenhouse gas emitting coal-fired power stations. While the aluminium is mainly consumed overseas, the emissions of its production are allocated to Australia. Geoff Carmody argues we need a consumption based emissions trading scheme.[7]

Hydrocarbon Exports[edit]

Coal is forecast to be Australia’s largest export earner at $58.1 billion in 2018-19, according to the latest commodity forecast from the Department of Industry’s Office of the Chief Economist.[8] Globally, Australia ranks #15 on the country list of greenhouse gas emissions (1.28%).[9][circular reference]


In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was clear Australian consensus about the need for action on climate change between the two major political parties. However following the 1991 recession incoming right wing governments began framing science of climate change as a continuing debate. In 1997 Australia joined the United States as the only countries to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.[10]

Influenced by the Millenium drought and 2006s An Inconvenient Truth the Howard Liberal government lost the 2007 election to the Rudd Labor Government which described climate change as "greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time" and immediately ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In 2009 before a bill could be passed, with the support of opposition leader Malcolm Turnball, the opposition changed leaders to Tony Abbott, and with the help of The Greens, blocked Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.[10]

In 2010 the Rudd government decided to delay the implementation of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) until the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (ending in 2012).[11] They cited the lack of bipartisan support for the CPRS and slow international progress on climate action as the reasons for the decision.[12] In turn the delay was strongly criticised by the Federal Opposition[13] as well as community and grassroots action groups such as GetUp.[14]

Following the unsuccessful Copenhagen Summit the Rudd was replaced by Gillard as Prime Minister, who stated that "there will be no 'carbon tax' under the government I lead".[10]

In 2012 the Gillard Labor government introduced Carbon pricing in Australia, which became colloquially known as a 'carbon tax'. It required large businesses, defined as those emitting over 25,000 tons of [15]carbon dioxide equivalent annually, to purchase emissions permits. The strong right wing backlash lead by opposition leader Abbott led to her being replace as leader by Rudd, then Abbott at the next election. Under his leadership, Australia became the first country to repeal a carbon pricing program.[16]

In 2015 Abbott was replaced as Prime Minister by Turnbull under the condition that his climate policy would not change.[10] Australia attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and adopted the Paris Agreement. In limiting further action on climate change Australia joins Russia, Turkey and Brazil in citing US President Trump's promise to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.[17]

In 2018, Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison as leader of the Liberal party. Morrison won the 2019 election with an unchanged climate policy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2017 Review of Climate Change Policies". Commonwealth of Australia. December 2017. p. 5. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  2. ^ "AUSTRALIA'S RISING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS" (PDF). Climate Council of Australia. 2018. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-925573-58-9. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b "National Inventory by Economic Sector 2017" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. June 2019.
  4. ^ Navigating the Numbers: Greenhouse Gas Data and International Climate Policy, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1.
  5. ^ Garnaut Climate Change Review, Chapter 3, Table 3.2.
  6. ^ Karp, Paul (2018-10-08). "Australian government backs coal in defiance of IPCC climate warning". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  7. ^ It's no contest - we need an ETS based on consumption, Geoff Carmody Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, Retrieved 27 December 2008.
  8. ^ "Coal overtakes iron ore in government forecasts as Australia's largest export for 2018-19". Minerals Council of Australia. 2018-07-02. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  9. ^ List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions
  10. ^ a b c d Butler, Mark (2017-07-04). "How Australia bungled climate policy to create a decade of disappointment | Mark Butler". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  11. ^ "Interview Prime Minister of Australia". Prime Minister of Australia's website. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, Australia. 27 April 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  12. ^ "Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme" (Press release). Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  13. ^ Kelly, Joe (28 April 2010). "Tony Abbott accuses Kevin Rudd of lacking 'guts' to fight for ETS". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  14. ^ Hartcher, Peter (1 May 2010). "It's time for Labor to fret". The Age. Melbourne.
  15. ^ Anita Talberg; Kai Swoboda (6 June 2013). "Emissions trading schemes around the world". Parliament of Australia.
  16. ^ Ghorayshi, Azeen (July 18, 2014). "Australia will pay dearly for repealing its carbon tax". Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  17. ^ "Climate change: 'Trump effect' threatens Paris pact". BBC. 3 December 2018.