Australia ranks as the world’s worst polluter from the use of coal, with per capita emissions from coal fired generation four times larger than the global average, new analysis shows.
The damning assessment of Australia’s pollution from coal use comes from new analysis published on Friday by international climate and energy think tank Ember.
Ember compared emissions from coal use in countries across the G20 and the OECD, finding Australia was the worst for per capita coal power emissions, averaging more than 4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per person.
This is substantially higher than the second ranked country, South Korea, which produced 3.18 tonnes of coal emissions per person, above third placed China (3.06), and well above the global average of 1.06 tonnes of coal emissions per person.
According to the assessment, Australia’s per person emissions from coal use are around twice those of the United States and Japan.
Ember’s global lead, Dave Jones, says Australia’s ongoing dependence on coal is contributing to worsening climate change that was already impacting Australian communities.
“Burning coal on this scale is setting the stage for many fire seasons to come,” Jones said.
“The single biggest action the world can take to tackle the climate crisis is to rapidly transition away from antiquated coal power and towards the clean and renewables-based electricity system of the future.
“Australia’s solar boom is reducing coal use, but there is still a long way to go,” Jones added.
Ember says improvements in the emissions intensity of Australia’s electricity generation – achieved through increase in the use of renewables – has not been enough to lower Australia’s ranking.
“From 2019 to 2021, wind and solar rose from 13 to 22 per cent, whilst the share of fossil fuels fell from 79 to 70 per cent. However, it was still not enough to improve Australia’s global position,” Ember’s analysis says.
Between 2015 and 2020, Australia emitted 5.3 tonnes of emissions per capita each year as a result of coal fired generation, also substantially higher than the global average.
When scored on its overall dependence on coal, Australia has the second-highest share of electricity generation sourced from coal at 51 per cent, ranking behind only Poland (70.4 per cent).
The results highlight that while progress is being made in shifting Australia’s electricity system to renewable energy sources, there is still significant work to be done to replace coal.
Ember says Australia’s coal dependence will be a challenge for the next federal government.
“Regardless of the results of this weekend’s election, the transition away from coal will be a critical challenge for the next government, unless they believe Australians want to remain among the most coal-intensive electricity users on the planet,” Ember said.
On Thursday, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt said he would use any balance-of-power position the party may hold following the election to Greens to push for 2030 deadline to phase out coal power.
The Alliance, started by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, commits countries to phase out coal use by 2030 – both countries with significantly lower per capita coal emissions, according to the Ember analysis.
Both of Australia’s major parties have consistently refused to join the pact.
Australia has regularly scored poorly on international rankings of fossil fuel dependence or the strength of climate change policies – often coming last.
Last year, an assessment of national climate change policies was completed by the UN-backed Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranked Australia dead last of all 193 members of the United Nations.
In that assessment, Australia received the lowest score awarded, just 10 out of 100, for progress against the ‘climate action’ sustainable development goal.
That ranking tracks countries across four core metrics, including the level of emissions from fossil fuel use, embedded emissions in imports and exports and progress towards implementing an effective price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Michael Mazengarb is a Sydney-based reporter with RenewEconomy, writing on climate change, clean energy, electric vehicles and politics. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in climate and energy policy for more than a decade.