Is Australia the world's worst environmental offender?

Its PM plans to axe green laws, but is Australia really worse than China or America?

LAST UPDATED AT 09:20 ON Fri 7 Feb 2014

AUSTRALIA'S conservative government has taken preliminary steps to repeal the country's carbon tax legislation, leading to claims that it is fast becoming an environmental villain. 

Australia is already the biggest polluter per capita in the developed world, with greenhouse gas emissions growing by 30 per cent since 1990, the Financial Times reports. The country's carbon tax laws were put in place just two years ago to try to limit the country's emissions.

New Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, says his new 'direct acton' policy, will be as effective at curbing emissions as the existing carbon tax, but will be significantly cheaper.

Alex White, writing for The Guardian, says that the government's proposal is fundamentally flawed, offering no real consequences for companies that fail to comply with emissions targets: "[Australian environment minister] Greg Hunt wants to give $3bn to big polluting companies to reduce their emissions, but have no sanctions for those businesses if they fail to meet the reduction targets."

The plan, White says, "is like giving money to an illegal drug dealer to develop innovative ways for him to stop dealing drugs, then having no penalty if he keeps selling them."

The proposed repeal of the carbon tax is the latest in a line of policies that have angered environmental activists.

In Queensland three million cubic metres of mud and sediment will soon be dumped into Australia's Great Barrier Reef Park. In Tasmania new plans aim to strip World Heritage protection from forests containing some of the tallest trees on earth. And in Western Australia, a cull of great white sharks has begun despite their being listed as vulnerable species by the WWF.

The moves have prompted The Independent's Kathy Marks to ask whether "Tony Abbott's Australian administration (is) the most hostile to his nation's environment in history?"

Since coming to power in September, the Abbott government's attitude to climate change prevention has been distinctly hostile:

  • In October, Abbott dismissed a report from the Climate Change Authority that recommended cutting carbon emissions at a faster rate
  • He opted not to send a minister to the United Nations climate negotiations in Warsaw last year.
  • Last year he equated climate action with "socialism".

A report last month by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that among 34 advanced nations Australia was among only four that had increased greenhouse emissions since 1990, the Guardian's Oliver Milman reports. "The UK, France, Germany and Italy all achieved cuts in that timeframe," Milman says.

Yet despite the recent policy changes, Australia still ranks highly in several categories of the annual Environmental Performance Index compiled by Yale University, including air quality, health impacts, and water and sanitation.

In absolute terms, China emits more carbon than any other country, followed by the United States and then the European Union, according to data compiled by the United Nations and the International Energy Agency. India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and – perhaps more surprisingly – Iran are the next on the list, with Australia coming in at 16th in terms of total emissions.

But is Australia on its way up the rankings? Marks in the Independent points to the concerns of one letter-writer to the Sydney Morning Herald, who writes: "This crowd [the government] have been in office for less than six months. Imagine the damage they can do in three years [the parliamentary term]." · 

Disqus - noscript

Measuring emissions on a per capita basis is a totally stupid. It means if Australia doubled its population it would halve its per capita emissions!!!!! How many degrees would it take to work that out?

Er, if Australia's population increased then so would its emissions...

Of course Australia is lower than China etc in total emissions, it has a population of 22 million in a land mass bigger than US, China or Europe.
Australia has a very small manufacturing base, unlike China that makes half our products, and yet still has the worst emissions per head.

But you all want to live here! Don't you envy us being the richest country with the best lifestyle! We're entitled to pollute and trash our environment as a sovereign country. Who cares about the environment when we're having so much fun buying everything our heart's desire! What's the matter with you.

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