Per Capita Coal Power Emissions, 2022

New analysis by Ember finds that Australia had the highest coal power emissions per capita among the world's major economies in 2021, ranking as the top polluter in both the G20 and OECD.

Hannah Broadbent

Head of Communications

19 May 2022 | 12 min read

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This analysis calculated average annual coal power emissions per capita in 2021, using electricity generation data from Ember’s Global Electricity Review and annual population data from the United Nations.

Executive summary

Australians were the world’s worst coal power polluters in 2021

Emissions are falling as the rooftop solar boom continues, but still not fast enough

New analysis by energy think tank Ember finds that Australia had the highest coal power emissions per capita among the world’s major economies in 2021, ranking as the top polluter in both the G20 and OECD. An Australian person emits four times more carbon dioxide from coal power than the average person globally.

Australia burns so much coal to produce electricity that four tonnes of carbon dioxide were released for every Australian in 2021. The average person worldwide emits just 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electricity generation. Australians emit double the average person in the United States and Japan. 

Yet even 2021 is an improvement. Between 2015 to 2020, the average Australian emitted 5.3 tonnes of CO2 per year solely due to 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% of its electricity demand from fossil fuels to wind and solar in just two years. From 2019 to 2021, wind and solar rose from 13% to 22%, whilst the share of fossil fuels fell from 79% to 70%. 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%). A further 18% of Australia’s electricity came from fossil gas. Unlike other countries that have lots of legacy hydro and nuclear plants, only 29% of Australia’s electricity was clean in 2021.

According to the International Energy Agency, OECD countries like Australia should end coal power by 2030 to keep global heating within safe limits and stay on course for Net Zero. However, Australia has failed to commit to a coal phase-out date, despite pledging to reach Net Zero by 2050 at the latest. Australia’s own energy market operator estimated in December last year that all brown coal generation and over two-thirds of black coal generation could retire by 2032, without significant government intervention.

Burning coal on this scale is setting the stage for many fire seasons to come. The single biggest action the world can take to tackle the climate crisis is to rapidly transition away from antiquated coal power and towards the clean and renewables-based electricity system of the future. Australia’s solar boom is reducing coal use, but there is still a long way to go.

Dave Jones Ember’s global lead

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