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Australian CO2 emissions. Queensland and Western Australia are world class polluters

We all know that Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide. While this is pretty embarrassing as an Australian. I was curious to consider what the break down was across the states of Australia and how we are tracking over time.

I have used data from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory which reports greenhouse gas emissions by key sector and by state from 1990 to 2012. Firstly consider our total emissions (Figure 1), a pretty damning 31% increase in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2012 (415 Million and 544 Million tons respectively). Clearly the biggest contributor is the energy sector (70%-76%) reflecting our reliance on coal burning power stations.

But that’s not fair you say: the population has increased since 1990, so we should be considering our per-capita CO2 emissions. In 1990 Australia was emitting 24.2 Tons per person, and by 2012 this had reduced (by about 2%) to 23.8 Tons per person (Figure 2). Well that’s a bit better – at least we are not getting worse – although we have an upcoming blog to put Australia’s effort in a bit of global context.


Figure 1: Australia’s CO2 emissions through time.


Figure 2: Australia’s CO2 emissions per person.

So we have improved a bit, and mostly since 2007 when climate change became the ‘moral imperative of our time’ with the introduction of the Rudd federal government. What is interesting is to consider how this breaks down across each state (Figure 3). The trend through time is similar across most states with a peak in the mid 2000’s and general decrease by 2012. Queensland and Western Australia are still to get back to their 1990 levels. There is clearly a big range between states, with the mining and industrial sector driven economies of Western Australia and Queensland pumping out more than double the CO2 of our green hydro-powered cousins in Tasmania (Figure 4). I have omitted the Northern Territory, partly to save embarrassment (60 Tonnes per person per year!), but mostly because the small population base (240,000 people) means that one or two large industrial facilities heavily skews the per person CO2 count.


Figure 3: CO2 emissions per person by Australian state.


Figure 4: Average annual CO2 per person (1990-2012) by state.

Western Australia and Queensland emit more CO2 per person than all countries except the oil rich nations of Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago and Kuwait

Whilst Australia’s CO2 output is globally embarrassing, the industrial economies of Western Australia and Queensland are truly staggering. In order to compare these figures globally, we have to remove the Agricultural contribution which isn’t included in the World Bank CO2 figures. Western Australia and Queensland emit more CO2 per person than all countries except the oil rich nations of Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago and Kuwait (see world bank data ).

So next time Queensland and Western Australia make the news due to unseasonal and catastrophic cyclones, we can maybe reflect in the old saying ‘reap what you sow’.

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