Australia has highest coal emissions per person globally

Coal-fired power station at night (capacity mechanism)
Image: Shutterstock

The carbon emissions of every Australian is four times bigger than that of the average person globally, according to new analysis by energy think tank Ember.

Ember’s report estimates that Australia’s emissions from coal amount to 4.04 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, while the average person worldwide emits just 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electricity generation.

Related article: Coal connection for Australia’s most polluted postcodes

The authors of the report used electricity generation data from Ember’s Global Electricity Review and population statistics from the United Nations.

Ember’s analysts suggest Australians emit double the average person in the United States.

They estimated that in the period 2015 to 2020 the average Australian emitted around 5.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, driven by the amount of coal burned to generate the country’s electricity.

In 2021, there were fewer coal emissions due to a renewables boom that saw Australia shift 9 per cent of its electricity demand from fossil fuels to wind and solar in just two years.

Related article: New PM Albanese heads to Quad meeting in Japan

From 2019 to 2021, wind and solar rose from 13 per cent to 22 per cent, while the share of fossil fuels fell from 79 per cent to 70 per cent. However, it was still not enough to improve Australia’s global position. 

Australia remained the second most coal-dependent country in the OECD after Poland, relying on coal for over half of its electricity in 2021 (51 per cent). A further 18 per cent of Australia’s electricity came from fossil gas. Unlike other countries that have lots of legacy hydro and nuclear plants, only 29 per cent of Australia’s electricity was clean in 2021.