Australia’s role as a leader in the global fossil fuel trade is underscored by a report that finds it is the world’s third biggest exporter and fifth biggest miner of fossil-related emissions.While political debate sometimes emphasises that Australia is responsible for 1.2% of global emissions at home, the analysis by progressive thinktank the Australia Institute says it trails only Russia and Saudi Arabia in exporting fossil fuels.
Australia is the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels behind Russia and Saudia Arabia, Xinhua news agency reported citing a report released by the Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program.
The report showed that Australia’s exports of coal, gas and oil make up 7 per cent of total fossil fuel exports globally, which is equal to 74 per cent of fossil fuel exports from the entire European Union.Parties involved with producing the report, as well as climate change advocates, have used the figures to call for a rethink of Australia’s role in global carbon emissions.
In other words, when Australian fossil fuels — primarily coal — are burned overseas, the amount of carbon dioxide they produce is higher than the exported emissions of nearly all the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations, like Iraq and Kuwait.
The report’s release follows the prime minister, Scott Morrison, facing criticism at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu over Australia’s limited response to the climate crisis and refusal to commit to a rapid transition away from coal.
The government and opposition both stress the importance of the coal export industry to the economy and employment. The institute’s report, by the senior researcher Tom Swann, challenges this, finding Australia’s economy is more diverse and less reliant on fossil fuels than that of most carbon exporters. It says Australia ranks 24th for carbon intensity across all exports, reflecting the broad range of goods it trades in.
Australia is responsible for 7% of global fossil fuel exports based on their carbon dioxide potential. Its coal exports doubled between 2000 and 2015 and now make up 29% of the global coal trade. Liquefied natural gas exports tripled over the same timeframe to 6% of trade, and continue to increase.
The reason Australia’s CO2 exports are so high is that we primarily export coal, which emits high amounts of CO2 per unit of energy production, compared to oil and gas.The figures in the report are based on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) standardised energy units for crude oil, refined oil, natural gas and coal, expressed as kilotonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe).These are combined with IPCC data which gives CO2 emissions per energy unit for each fuel type, expressed as kilograms of CO2 per terajoule.
In terms of domestic emissions, the report says Australia is the 14th biggest emitter despite having just 0.3% of the global population. It emits more greenhouse gas than 40 countries with bigger populations. While the government promises to cut carbon dioxide, national emissions have increased year-on-year since the abolition of a carbon price scheme in 2014.
As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia last week backed a call for countries to develop and release long-term low emissions development strategies by next year. The forum communique said this may include commitments and strategies to reach net zero emissions by 2050.Australia definitely needs to have in mind carbon reduction as the aim.