The new research also finds that in absolute terms Australia is the world’s fifth largest miner of fossil fuels, ranking behind only China, United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
On a per capita basis, Australia is on par with Saudi Arabia.
The analysis, released today by public policy think tank the Australia Institute, measures fossil fuel exports according to their carbon dioxide-emissions potential.
In other words, when Australian fossil fuels, primarily coal, are burned overseas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) they produce is higher than the exported emissions of nearly all the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations, like Iraq and Kuwait.
The report found Australia mines about 57 tonnes of CO2 potential per person each year, about 10 times the global average, and exports seven per cent of the world’s fossil fuel CO2 potential.
Australia is the biggest coal exporter in the world, and export emissions should be counted toward our overall emissions footprint, according to the Climate and Energy Director at the Australia Institute, Richie Merzian.
“Australia should be factoring this in, in how we consider our climate change responsibilities,” Mr Merzian said.
“If Australia takes up the Galilee Basin, permits fracking and accesses the Great Australian Bight, it will continue to push Australia down a dangerous path.”
The reason Australia’s CO2 exports are so high is that it primarily exports coal, which emits high amounts of CO2 per unit of energy production, compared to oil and gas.
The figures the report is based on come from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) standardised energy units for crude oil, refined oil, natural gas and coal, expressed as kilo tonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe).
These are combined with United Nations IPCC data, which gives CO2 emissions per energy unit for each fuel type, expressed as kilograms of CO2 per terajoule.
The report comes just days after Australia thwarted efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on a declaration for stronger action on climate change.
Australia did everything it could to change language referring to a climate “crisis” and objected to the call for revisions to emissions reduction targets, and the phasing out of coal use.
According to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) CO2 emissions from Australian fossil fuel exports are not as clear cut as the report would indicate.
Australian fossil fuel exports, namely gas, are helping to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions, APPEA CEO Andrew McConville told ABC News.
“Natural gas plays a key role in reducing global emissions and in assisting export customers in moving to a lower carbon future,” he said.
“If Australia was to stop producing natural gas, our Asian customers would use other sources of energy including traditional fuels that have much higher associated emissions.
“Climate change is a global issue, and the Australian oil and gas industry is playing a key role in reducing global emissions.”
Mr Merzian said research from the Australia Institute did not back up that view.
“Oftentimes our gas is being used to meet new generation or it’s being used to change from low-emission to high-emission fuels,” he said.
“A prime example of that is Japan, that went from nuclear after Fukushima to huge investments in gas.”The Energy Minister in Australia’s conservative Liberal-National government, Angus Taylor, also claimed Australian fossil fuel exports were helping bring down global emissions in a statement in June, following the publication of Australia’s latest quarterly emissions figures.
The figures again showed an increase in Australia’s quarterly emissions, with fugitive emissions from the LNG sector being partly to blame.
ABC News reports according to Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at ANU that claim is “silly” and relies on false assumptions .
“The assumption that every unit of Australia’s exported gas replaces coal is silly. The claim of a 148 Mt saving is wrong and unfounded,” Professor Jotzo wrote in the Conversation.
“For the most part, exported gas probably displaces natural gas that would otherwise be produced elsewhere, leaving overall emissions roughly the same.”
Professor Gus Nathan, the director of the Centre for Energy Technology at the University of Adelaide said Australia needs to be focussing on developing exportable clean energy for the future.
“We know that we can expect demand for carbon-based products to decline whether we like it or not, and we definitely need to be building pathways to be exporting clean energies like hydrogen at scale.
“There is big potential for Australia to be transforming to hydrogen as an export but to do that would take a lot of time.”
The question of how much time it will take to transition to low-emissions energy sources, like hydrogen, goes around in a circle, Professor Nathan said.
“But it’s a chicken and egg, as the market grows we make more, then we learn how to do it cheaper and so the market grows, it’s a cyclical process.”
Australia could be exporting around $1.7 billion worth of hydrogen each year by 2030, according to a 2018 report from Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel.
Japan is expected to make big investments in hydrogen as it seeks alternatives to nuclear power.