Australia is already the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the world. Even more worrying is that the nation's emissions continue to spiral out of control.
The Greenhouse Indicator Report was released by the Climate Group on January 13. It found that Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in Queensland, NSW and Victoria increased by 1.3% on 2007 levels; that's an increase of approximately 3.6 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) pumped into the atmosphere.
By contrast, worldwide emissions in the year to 2007 increased by only 0.5%, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
Compared with 2000 levels, carbon emissions from the eastern states of Australia have risen by 19%, but weighed up against 1990 levels the increases are even more shocking. NSW's emissions have risen by 30%, Victoria's by 32% and Queensland's by a whopping 116%.
Furthermore, the Climate Group report only measured emissions from energy generation. This discounts emissions from the agriculture sector, the second largest contributor to Australia's overall emissions.
PM Kevin Rudd's plan to reduce Australia's total emissions by 5% on 1990 levels by 2020 is grossly inadequate given the very real threat of runaway climate change. Unfortunately, the picture is far worse when you consider the amount of coal Australia exports.
Professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide, did some quick calculations on Australia's projected coal exports in a December 26 post on his blog bravenewclimate.com.
He pointed out that Australia's total emissions in 1990 was 552.6 Mt of CO2 equivalent. In 2006 (the latest inventory year) Australia's emissions had risen to 576.0 Mt.
The Rudd government's aim of a 5% reduction will amount to only a 22 Mt reduction on 1990 levels, down to 530.5 Mt per year. At the same time, Rudd announced on December 12 that $580 million of public money will be allocated to the expansion of coal facilities in the Hunter Valley and the Port of Newcastle. This is predicted to increase coal exports from Newcastle from 97 Mt of coal to 200 Mt annually.
This comes on top of a government decision last April to give the go-ahead for a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Wiggins Island coal terminal in Gladstone, Queensland. This will result in another 84 Mt of coal being exported annually.
Brook points out that when 1 tonne of coal is burned it releases approximately 3.6 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. That means that an extra 673 Mt of CO2 equivalent will be released as a result of the Rudd government's decision to finance additional Australian coal exports - enough to cancel out the government's paltry 5% reduction 30 times over.
This is "business as usual" climate policy: the road to climate disaster.