Evaluating the significance of Australia’s global fossil fuel carbon footprint

Coal Mining Fossil fuels Global environmental change Carbon emissions Paris Agreement Australia

Australia’s share of global CO2 emissions from domestic use of fossil fuels was about 1.4% of global fossil fuel combustion emissions in 2017. We find that accounting for fossil fuel exports lifts Australia’s global carbon footprint from domestic use and export of fossil fuels to about 5%. This carbon footprint is equivalent to the total emissions of Russia, which is ranked the fifth biggest CO2 emitter globally.

Australia is the world’s largest coal (thermal + metallurgical) exporter, accounting for about 29% of traded coal globally in 2016 and will soon be the world’s largest natural gas (LNG) exporter. As a consequence, Australia's global carbon footprint is very significant, with exported fossil fuel emissions currently representing around 3.6% of global emissions. In 2017, Australian coal and gas exports produced around 2.9% and 0.6% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion respectively.

Australia is one of the highest per capita CO2 emitters in the world. On a per capita basis, Australia’s carbon footprint, including exports, surpasses China by a factor of 9, the US by a factor of 4 and India by a factor of 37.

The results of this analysis show that if current government and industry projections for fossil fuel exports are realised, Australia could be responsible (including both domestic and exported emissions) for about 13% (between 11.9% - 17.4%) of Paris Agreement compatible global CO2 emissions in 20301 . By far the largest growth would be coming from coal exports.

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