Bob Brown’s egregious attempt to blame the Australian coal industry for the Queensland floods got quite strongly attacked in the national media last month.
Just how little he understands (or how he chooses to portray) the drivers of human-induced global warming becomes clear in reading the latest statistics from the US Energy Information Administration, which has undertaken a substantial effort to track carbon emissions around the world from energy use, excluding greenhouse gases from other sources, such as deforestation and methane emitted by farmed livestock.
While the dominant feature of the US EIA’s analysis focuses on how heavily future emission trends depend on China and the US, the world’s two largest emitters, with China in the lead since 2006-07, a little digging in the data throws an interesting light on Australian emissions.
The key Australian numbers are that energy-related emissions in 1980 were 204 million tonnes annually in 1980, reached 267 Mt in 1990 and 356 Mt in 2000, peaking at 425 Mt in 2008 ahead of the global financial crisis. This places us 15th among the world’s greenhouse gas emitting nations.
By comparison, Canada, which is ranked seventh, has had emissions rise from 457 Mt in 1980 to a peak of 610 Mt in 2007 ahead of the GFC — while Brazil, ranked 14th, has seen emissions rise from 185 Mt in 190 to 420 MT now and South Africa (12th) has seen a rise from 235 Mt in 1980 to a peak of 482 Mt in 2008.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that, had our politicians not panicked over plans to turn to nuclear power in the 1970s for electricity generation and had we maintained emissions at the level they were 30 years ago, our annual contribution today would be some 220 Mt lower — but the world’s emissions would still be more than six billion tonnes a year higher than in 1980.
Even when one factors in Australian exports of coal — and it is interesting that Brown avoided any mention of exports of LNG, current and future from projects now under way — then the vast bulk of the increase in global emissions is still sourced elsewhere in the world.
Of course this is not an argument for Australia to take no abatement action, but the data highlight what a nonsense it is for populist local politicians to beat up on domestic energy industries when a global problem is so obviously caused by world-wide emissions many times the Australian contribution (whether domestic or as a result of burning fuel we export), not taking in to account the international emissions avoided through our exports of uranium and of lower-emitting gas.
In short, this is yet another example of the “never mind the quality, feel the width” spin embraced by Brown, his Greens and others in their efforts to sell their political line to Australians.
It may be too much to expect media reporters operating on the run to pick up what’s wrong with Brown’s rant, but why, one wonders, did the Gillard government, with access to all the data, allow him to get away with it? The answer in a hung parliament is obvious, but the government’s failure to pin him on this point is as egregious as his claims.