The most common canary in Australia’s coal mine is a bit of a letdown.
A bit of an enigma.
But one that is worth looking out for, says a leading climate scientist, and one that can help shed light on the climate change debate.
“It’s important to look at it as a canary, not a signpost.
The world is warming,” Professor Robert Watson said.
But the canary is not the only warning sign for Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases, which are expected to rise by a further 4 per cent by 2100.
Professor Watson is the chief scientist of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, and has been working with the World Bank on an ambitious climate policy plan to slow the rate of global warming to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and then to 1.5 to 2 degrees by 2100 if the world meets its carbon-reduction commitments.
His team’s latest report released on Monday has a number of key recommendations.
The study looked at a wide range of indicators including the CO2 emissions of countries like the US, the European Union, India, China, Russia and the UK, the impacts of emissions from mining operations in the US and India, and impacts from climate change.
The team also looked at trends in coal and oil production.
For example, it said Australia’s average CO2 emission in 2020 was 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity generation, compared to 1,094 tonnes per megawsatt hour in 2012.
That was down from 1,664 tonnes per gigawatt-hour in 2012, according to the World Resources Institute.
In Australia, the CO02 emissions from coal and oils were up by almost 40 per cent over the same period.
This was largely because coal, oil and gas producers were burning more coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity than they had done in the past, and because of the expansion of renewable energy generation, which was helping offset the decline in fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, emissions from oil and natural gas increased by about 6 per cent per megawatts of electricity production in Australia between 2014 and 2020.
However, Professor Watson said that if coal and gas production were combined with the increase in renewable energy, Australia’s total emissions would drop by 2 per cent.
Climate scientists have long been warning of the negative impacts of climate change, but the global economy has not yet adjusted to the consequences of a warming planet.
If it did, the study suggests that Australia’s CO2 pollution would rise by about 5 per cent a year by 2100 without action to reduce emissions.
Even with mitigation measures, the paper said Australia would continue to emit more than a third of its emissions, as the country continued to rely on fossil fuels for almost half of its electricity generation.
By 2100, the researchers estimated that if all emissions remained the same, Australia would need to reduce its emissions by about 50 per cent to offset the global economic damage caused by climate change if the planet were to remain at 1.7 degrees Celsius warming.
Dr Watson said the report provided a useful starting point for climate policy discussions, and would give Australians some hope that action could be taken.
He said that as a country, Australia needed to take a global climate approach to managing the effects of climate disruption.
“The main thing is we need to do more of it,” he said.
“It is a real challenge for Australia, as a nation and as a region.”
“We have got to be ambitious in trying to do that, but we also have to recognise that we are a country with some resources.”