Australia’s soaring carbon emissions put Kyoto out of reach

The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC, an organisational unit of the US Department of Energy) has released it’s latest figures for Australia’s carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption. Due to the complexity in collating emissions, the current reporting year is 2005. The figures certainly leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Already among the highest per capita emitters in the world, Australia’s emissions jumped a whopping 8.3% between 2004 and 2005. But even if you take the lower figure of the national rate of increase over the previous 5 years of the reporting period, it still implies that, excluding land use change (we largely halted land clearance in Queenland a few years ago), Australia’s emissions will be 37% above 1990 levels by 2012.

There is also a worrying discrepancy between the emissions reported by the former Australian Greenhouse Office (now Department of Climate Change) and those estimated by CDIAC. One implication is that we are going to miss our Kyoto reduction target of 8% above 1990 levels (yes, I see the irony of a reduction target that is an increase) by a long way. But it also begs another obvious question – how is an emissions trading scheme going to work effectively if we cannot even be guaranteed that emissions are being validly reported?

Rosslyn Beeby featured this story on the front page of the Canberra Times, 29 August. Below is a snippet, click here to read the full article.

Carbon spike hits Kyoto gas pledge

Australia’s fossil fuel emissions are growing more than four times faster than figures quoted by the Federal Government, placing Australia’s Kyoto target at risk.

Figures published online yesterday by one of the world’s top authorities on greenhouse emissions shows Australia’s total fossil fuel emissions jumped by 8.3 per cent from 93 million tonnes in 2004 to just over 100 million tonnes in 2005.

This includes a 12 per cent rise in carbon dioxide emissions from cement manufacture and from aviation and shipping.

These figures, calculated by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre in the United States, conflict with Federal Government claims that national fossil fuel emissions rose by only 2 per cent over the same period.

Australia has committed to meeting a target of 108 per cent of its 1990 emissions levels about 599 million tonnes annually by 2012.

But the centre’s figures suggest this cannot be achieved.

They also question the accuracy of data used by the Rudd Government to shape its response to the challenges of climate change.

Australian National University’s climate law and policy centre co-director Andrew Macintosh said, ”Are the federal figures accurate? That’s the million-dollar question, but it does seem a bit odd that the numbers always seem to fall our way.”

The US centre, established more than 25 years ago, includes the World Data Centre for atmospheric trace gases and provides climate change data and analysis for the US Department of Environment.

Its latest figures show global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning have increased by 3.8 per cent, with Australia ranked as one of the world’ top 10 polluters on per capita use of fossil fuels.

The director of the University of Adelaide’s climate change research institute, Professor Barry Brook, said the centre’s figures showed ”rhetoric about Australia being on track to meet its Kyoto target is just greenwash”.

The figures indicated Australia was ”doing nothing effective to stem its emissions” beyond the Government’s claims that land clearance had been halted.

”In terms of fuel use, [emissions are] spirally upwards at an alarming rate,” Professor Brook said.

”The increase from 1990 levels is now tracking at 25.8 per cent based on fossil fuel usage.”

He said even a conservative projection based on the US centre’s data suggested that by 2012, Australia fossil fuel emissions could be 37 per cent above 1990 levels.

Co-chairman of international climate change policy think-tank the Global Carbon Project Dr Mike Raupach said it was possible the 8.3 per cent increase was a data anomaly.

”However, it does remind us of Australia’s long-term emission growth over the last two decades, which is around 2 per cent per year and is way, way too high.

Read the full article here…

The CSIRO’s Mike Raupach and Pep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project have made the same point on a global scale – of spiralling emissions and declinging carbon sinks, exceeding even the worst-case projections of the IPCC, driven largely by the phenomenal growth of industrial activity in China. As Mike points out here, it’s a classic tragedy of the commons, but this time on a planetary scale…


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

16 replies on “Australia’s soaring carbon emissions put Kyoto out of reach”

Barry, that photo is just ignorant propaganda …. now you go and FIND out why, mate.

[It’s a cooling tower from a coal-fired power station – a power station that produces CO2 emissions from the burning of a fossil fuel – it is also the figure used in the Canberra Times article, which is why it was linked here]

Compounding this ignorance, if you are concerned with CO2 emissions, is the use of the per capita CO2 method which removes the geographic reality. i.e. It sees people removed not just from their biology but from their environment. This is a very serious issue as any veritable, down to earth good gardener would understand.

A natural consequence of this disconnect is seen with our prime minister who from all reports is looking at 300,000 immigrants per year. (i.e. one million in his first term) This may lower per capita emissions but have diabolical effects on the environment. e.g. There is the increased demand for finite water resources in the food bowl Murray/Darling basin plus increased demand for food, infrastructure and energy.

[deleted pointless guff about political views and religion – Keiran, if you haven’t got anything constructive to say and wish to continue to snark, then go away. It’s my blog and if I feel you are being a pest, I’m quite happy to exercise my right to exercise pest control. I’m happy to answer sceptical questions, but I’m not happy to continue to waste my time correcting your deliberate disinformation or smears – last warning]


Barry, the land clearing link was to an undated WWF page that looks like it was written in late 2003 or 2004. The State of Environment
2006 report has data ending in 2004. I’ve not seen any data on land
clearing between 2004 and now. The way I figure it, land clearing would be calculated these days would be for satellite images to feed
into a computer program which would crunch the pixels and spit out
a land clearing figure — pretty much in real time :). Of course you
have to mask fire burns and so on but my understanding is that
this is pretty much what happens.

So who knows what has happened after 2004? Did the 2004
Qld legislation which was supposed to phase out clearing by the end of 2006 actually work? Clearly this is a question rather than a comment. I put a request for data into the Department of
Climate Change a couple of weeks back, they acknowledge me but haven’t sent an answer yet, but maybe someone else
reading your blog has more recent data.


This article seems rather premature in its conclusion. No-one is able to describe the methodological and empirical differences responsible for the discrepancy, and yet there is a presumption that American figures about Australia are more accurate than Australian figures about Australia.


Barry, after having a quick look at the figures, the 2005 emissions don’t seem much different – but the difference in the 1990 emissions is absolutely massive.

The Dept. Climate Change data on fossil fuel emissions can be obtained by interrogating AGEIS, which is here.

The DCC figure for 2005 is 361419 kt CO2-e (98635 kt C), for 2004 is 353518 kt CO2-e (96479 kt C), and for 1990 is 255297 kt CO2-e (69673 kt C). I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think these figures include cement.

The CDIAC figure (subtracting emissions for cement) for 2005 is 99447 kt C (0.8% higher than DCC), 2004 is 91837 kt C (5% lower than DCC), and 1990 is 79198 kt C (13.7% higher than DCC).

The land clearing figures are totally dodgy because of Kyoto accounting, where a logged forest that will eventually grow back still counts as a ‘forest’, so emissions from logging are not included (they don’t technically count as a ‘change of land use’). This method of only including some activities as a ‘change of land use’ introduces much more uncertainty. Roughly speaking, a problem of measuring a satellite image becomes a problem of ‘segmentation’ of the satellite image.

The results of Brendan Mackey et al.’s recently released Green Carbon report suggest that the emissions from logging Australia’s native forests are huge.


Thanks for the AGEIS link Peter – that is a very useful way to get at the DCC data quickly. I’m astounded at the discrepancy between the DCC and CDIAC figures for 1990! It makes our Kyoto ‘target’ even more illusory. I agree with both you and Geoff that the land clearance figures are to be taken with a shaker full of salt – and yet they are used in very serious international multilateral agreements to pretend that Australia is ‘doing it’s bit’. Pah.


Australia is a huge exporter of coal which ends up as CO2 (notwithstanding a whole range of well-known toxic pollutants). I don’t know if it is counted in the country’s emissions but if it is not, it’s like binge drinking on wk and pretending you’re sober on working days.
It’s like the British governement’s numbers who seem Kyoto compliant because emissions from travel and imports have been deliberately excluded.

BTW, I find it’s incredible that emission values for 2005 is only available in 2008! You can’t have a good control-command system if you don’t have a decent measurement system. Besides, it opens the door to suspicions of cheating and contribute to discredit the whole scheme.


Barry, I’m rather concerned that if the subconscious message is one of “simply believe, and it will be so” then this is nothing more than a cultural codification of ancient magical thinking where it becomes a heresy to ask for evidence. Evidence simply becomes irrelevant, meaning that something like water vapour coming from a cooling tower gets exaggerated in the media as pollution. This then gets promoted by yourself to scare the Oz public. This is such a serious issue and if there is no evidence then it is a giant hoax and if evidence is falsified it is fraud.

Barry if you are focused as you say, on this man vs message, then we are not doing science and to claim so is quite false. This is a constructive point to make that deserves your attention. Just what do you think you are really doing or is this just too personal a question?

My comments in your very own blogg, have focused on something quite different … namely … the message vs evidence. This is how our legal system works and just about everything else works because we live our lives continually immersed in cause and effect situations.


Demesure – those figures most definitely DO NOT include our exported coal – only CO2 produced within our borders. So your analogy about the binge-drinking ‘Tee-totaller’ is quite apt.

No one seems to know where to put airline emissions and so they are ‘missing’ from everyone’s national inventories and only get caught in the global numbers. Monbiot has been hammering this point in the UK – it is another reason why their Kyoto compliance is also a farce.


That said, you’d hardly condone countries washing their hands of all imported oil related emissions on the grounds that they come form the middle east?

I don’t mind the ‘you burn em, you earn em’ allocation of emissions.


True MattB, but if you then roll in Scope 3 emissions (all the manufactured goods we import from China which were built using energy derived from Aussie coal), then you get a similar situation from a different route. It’s a toughie, but the basic point is, I think, that Australia cannot pretend on the one hand to be doing something serious about carbon emissions at home, and on the other hand be massively ramping up our mining and export of coal in order to assist other countries in undermining atmospheric integrity. That’s called hypocrisy.

Air and shipping emissions are, as I said, the global form of hand washing.


A few points:

Carbon emissions are undoubtedly difficult to measure. and yes, Australia was very dodgy during kyoto negotiations.

Air travel emissions will be included in EU ETS for any flights landing in Europe.

Domestic Air travel will probably be included in AUS, as permit liability will be placed at some point as current fuel excise.

Forests are notoriously difficult to measure. However, we need to be very careful here.

The Green Carbon report is a good start, BUT, if they have overestimated the emissions sequestration we give a free kick to other industries and end up with a worse environmental outcome.

IMO, better to underestimate our sequestration, force the elec gens to reduce and get a better overall environmental outcome.

While it is true that Australia’s emissions from natural forestry are significant, its fairly small compared to Indonesia and others. So if we simply ban logging in Australia, without a similar reduction in demand for hardwood we have just shifted the emissions profile to somewhere else. where on a per tonne of hardwood is probably worse. (along with any other envrionmental impacts.)

We need to ramp up support of protection of forests in Indonesia/PNG and then reduce our own emissions.

In addition, we need to look at forest fires and how they get included in the mix. one of the arguments for not including natural forests in australia’s kyoto accounts was due to risk of forest fire jacking up our emissions in short term.

the next round of negotiations at Copenhagen australia might look at including natural forests in our accounts if we can account for fires adequately.


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