With both major parties avoiding climate policy during the election campaign, Australia still has the world’s largest economies’ highest per capita coal emissions.
Australia produced 4.04 tons of carbon dioxide per person from coal-fired power plants last year, according to a new report from energy think tank Ember.
That’s about four times the global average, double the per-person average in countries like the US and Japan, and more than any other country in the G20 or the OECD.
Liam Wagner, an energy economist at the University of Adelaide, said he was not surprised by the ranking, as Australia has long been one of the world’s most coal-dependent countries.
“Australia’s current energy policy has been ineffective and has greatly affected our competitiveness and our ability to move towards carbon neutrality,” he told news gear.
Andrew Stock of the Climate Council, who has more than 40 years of experience in the renewable and traditional energy sectors, said, “Australia has had its head in the sand for many, many, many years” when transitioning from coal.
The impact of this on the climate can be felt in a country like Australia.
“Burning coal on this scale is the foundation for many burning seasons,” said Dave Jones, Ember’s global leader.
Dr. Wagner said the government has not embraced the transition to renewable energy despite falling costs, and now energy suppliers are catching up.
“We’ve been in this position and stuck because of the policy uncertainty we’ve had for the past 10 years, if not longer, and it’s really hindered investment in renewables and certainly made the heavy industry more difficult to move to a low-carbon. Practices,” he said.
But the market is starting to shift on its own.
The march of progress
More and more energy suppliers are looking to renewable energy sources, as coal-fired power plants are shutting down years ahead of schedule.
Last year’s figure of 4.04 tons of carbon dioxide per person is lower than in the previous five years when coal-fired power plants produced an average of 5.3 tons per person.
There are 19 coal-fired power stations in Australia. Most are scheduled to close within the next two decades.
“In fact, companies are now talking about how they are gradually closing them [coal-fired] plants even earlier,” said Mr. Stock.
But experts say it’s still too slow.
Both parties eschew climate action during their election campaigns. Photo: AAP
“Australia’s solar boom is reducing coal use, but there is still a long way to go,” added Mr. Jones.
Mr. Stock also pointed out that while the current pace of progress may be technical enough to meet the government’s “slim” target of cutting emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2030, the reality is more urgent.
“The science would say, and the Climate Council says, we need to cut emissions by 75 percent by 2030 — so about three times the reduction the government is talking about —,” he told TND.
The 2030 target proposed by Labor is higher, at 43 percent.
“Both major parties are well north of the reductions needed by 2030 based on climate science,” he added.
The Ember analysts looked at domestic electricity generation, but Australia is also the world’s second-largest exporter of thermal coal.
“The impact we have globally is not just the coal we burn to make our own electricity – it’s also the coal we export,” said Mr. Stock.