3 Dec 2012

Australia among highest carbon emitters

11:29 am on 3 December 2012

Australia rates among the world's highest per capita carbon dioxide emitters in new figures released by British researchers.

In 2011, Australia recorded 17.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person, on par with the US, a team of specialist climate change researchers at the University of East Anglia has reported.

The figure is up from 16.3 tonnes per person in 2010 and takes Australia's total output to 392 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, representing 1.2% of the world's 2011 total.

"The United States, Canada and Australia are really the three (countries) that have much bigger emissions per person than any other," director of the University's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Corinne Le Quere told AAP.

"There are a range of oil-producing countries, like Qatar, which are much higher in terms of tonnes per person, but in terms of population size, they cannot be considered in the same category."

The research team forecasts a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes of global emissions in 2012, but Prof Le Quere said it was too early to determine Australia's contribution as a part of that projection.

While Australia's overall and per capita carbon emissions were not at their highest in 2011 - greater amounts were recorded in 2008 (393 million tonnes) and 2009 (400 million tonnes) - Prof Le Quere called for very aggressive policy to combat future fossil fuel-related output.

"Some countries - Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden, and the UK - have succeeded to reduce their energy usage by up to 5% and it's that sort of aggressive policy that's needed in other rich countries," Prof Le Quere said.

"One of Australia's greatest contributions of course is its use of coal and that I think will continue."

The team's report, to be published on Monday in online journal Nature Climate Change, named China (28%), the United States (16%), the European Union (11%), and India (7%) as the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions.

However, while emissions in China and India grew, the changes did not match booming population growth, while the US and EU posted a reduction on 2010 figures.

The projected 2.6 % rise in global emissions for 2012 takes output from burning fossil fuels to 58 % above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.

Last week, the Australian government announced it was ready to commit to limiting annual emissions to an average 99.5 % of 1990 levels (287 million tonnes) from 2013 to 2020 as part of its commitment to the second Kyoto period.