AUSTRALIA: Possibly highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world

A study of greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions by the world's industrialised countries has shown that Australia, not the USA, contributes most to global warming per capita.

The Australia Institute, a think tank for “a just, sustainable, peaceful future”, has analysed 1995 ghg emission data submitted by individual countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Greenhouse gas emissions per capita of Annex B Parties to the Kyoto Protocol used data regarding emissions of the three main ghgs by countries that have signed up to reduce those emissions under the Kyoto Protocol to halt climate change:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N20)

Analysis has shown that Australia contributes 25% more to climate change on a per capita basis than the next most polluting country, the USA.

At 26.7 tonnes of ghg emissions per person, Australia contributes “twice the average level for all other industrialised countries”, according to the study.

“While the USA has higher emissions per capita from energy (20.6 tonnes compared to Australia’s 17.6 tonnes), Australia has much higher levels of emissions from agriculture and land-use change,” concludes the study.

In fact, if the study had compared data from several years earlier, Australia’s contribution to ghg emissions from agriculture and land-use change would have been even greater since “Australia’s emissions from land clearing fell sharply between 1990 and 1995,” reports the Australia Institute.

“Policies need to target both land clearing and energy emissions,” Clive Hamilton, executive director of The Australia Institute told edie. “The complete cessation of land clearing would be a cheap and effective means of cutting Australia’s emissions. However, this simple and obvious solution has run into political difficulties in Queensland where there is a strong belief in farmers’ rights to do whatever they like. It may be necessary to pay land holders not to clear their land.”

Despite the grim facts of Australia’s chart-topping per capita emissions, Hamilton believes that if the political will to reduce emissions emerges there is real room for improvement: “Much can be done to reduce emissions through energy efficiency, switching to natural gas and adoption of renewables. Despite Australia’s high exposure to solar radiation, solar hot water heating lags behind other countries. Also, Australian vehicles are more like American gas guzzlers than fuel-efficient European cars.”

The other glimmer of hope resides with the Australian public’s concern over climate change. “Ordinary Australians have expressed a strong desire for Australia to take measures to cut emissions, and many feel ashamed at the position taken by the Australian Government at Kyoto,” says Hamilton. “The opposition Labor Party has not differentiated itself from the Government on climate change policy, but that is expected to change soon.”

After Australia and the USA, the study shows the following countries contributing the most per capita to global warming:

  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Japan

Emissions from international bunkers containing fuel used in international shipping and aviation were not included in the calculations because such emissions are excluded from national inventories for Kyoto.

Greenhouse gas emissions per capita of Annex B Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will be submitted to the Australian Senate References Committee on Environment, a body that is conducting an “inquiry into Australia’s response to global warming”.

The Australia Institute has also published a report on tax reform entitled Business Tax Reform and the Environment: Emissions trading as a tax reform option (see related story) and other environmental research, including Land-use Change in Australia and the Kyoto Protocol.

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