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The Dirty Truth of Australia's Carbon Footprint

The Dirty Truth of Australia's Carbon Footprint

If you are trying to understand why Australia is under so much pressure to do more about greenhouse gas emissions and Scottie is baulking, look to coal 

Australia leads the world in greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions per capita and it's mostly because of our coal mines and coal exports. Coal is mined right across Australia - in every state except Tasmania and South Australia. Black coal comes from New South Wales and Queensland with brown coal coming from Victoria. Around 75% of all coal mined in Australia is exported.

This live supply and demand counter from Renew Economy gives you an up to the minute read on production of energy from coal, gas, hydro, large & small solar, and wind across Australia, by state.

Coal is a big GHG emitter

The main reason our GHG emissions are so high is because the major source of our coal is thermal coal from coal-fired power stations - accounting for a whopping 29% of our total greenhouse gas emissions.

The second thing to know is that emissions are measured on a production rather than a consumption basis. So when Australia exports coal, for global accounting, the emissions created in it's mining are assigned to the country of origin because they were created when we mined them.

The per capita (per head) responsibility for those emissions is assigned to each and every Australian. Because we export 75% of our coal, we are literally carrying 22% emissions tally for what we export.

It's also about money. Loads of it

The thing is that Australia has been literally live off coal. It's our dirty secret. Australia and Indonesia are the two largest exporters of coal in the world, each accounting for close to 30 per cent of total global coal export volumes in 2018 -  $67 billion AUD of coal in fiscal 2018, according to the "Resources and Energy Quarterly" report for December published by Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

Australia has also overtaken Qatar to become the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, shipping 77.5 million tonnes in 2019 with an export value of $49 billion. When you see numbers that eye watering, you start to understand why people like Scott Morrison hem and haw so much on the world stage about Australia's responsibility for emissions. You can certainly see why he was cradling coal so lovingly in parliament.

Australia does have to get with the global program

At 14 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year, we have a big GHG problem. With most of the world now in sync, committing to reduce GHGs in line with 2030 / 2050 targets, Australia is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world. 

Aussies also live big and drive long

Australians live in big houses, drive long distances and live a long way from the rest of the world and all this piles onGHG emissions. What can you do at home? It is easy to tighten anything to do with the way you acquire and use power.

  • Get solar if you can, including a battery and monitoring device
  • Turn off lights, standbys
  • Check your appliances and do the maths on the age of your air conditioning, refrigeration and cooking 
  • Swap out LEDs
  • Make energy efficiency a top priority by turning off, insulating, changing light bulbs, buying high energy rated appliances. 

Other things you can do at home

It is pretty clear that we are spoilt for places to start to improve our behaviour - buying locally, installing solar, ditching packaging and plastic wherever possible and not buying more stuff than we need.

Holiday in Australia, don't drive when you can walk, cycle or take public transport. Compost if you can or get a worm farm, don't waste food and buy bulk. Stop printing, use recycled products, don't accept any kind of plastic shopping bags, and save water. Plant trees, grow a veggie and herb garden.

Don't waste. We have no excuse for each creating about 1.3 tonnes of landfill each year and have the global honour of producing more rubbish per person than any country in the world except the USA. About half the waste of an Australian household is packaging. Food makes up around 30 percent and to achieve that, we are throwing out around a quarter of of what we purchase without using it. 

With more than 90 percent of Australians concerned about climate change and at least one third of us extremely concerned, we have the will, so let's get on with it.

Image: Anatoly Tiplyashin/Shutterstock

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