Australia and South Korea remain the top two per capita coal power polluters

  • New Delhi

  • 5 September 2023

Australia and South Korea stood out as the top two coal power polluters per capita among the G20 in 2022, an unchanged status since 2020, according to a new analysis by global energy think tank Ember.

Australia and South Korea each emit over three times the global average and more than twice the G20 average, surpassing even China, the US, and Japan. This is despite declines in per capita coal power emissions across more than half of the G20 economies.

The shift to clean power isn’t fast enough and coal emissions remains an issue

In 2022, 36% of global electricity was powered by coal which emitted 8.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (tCO2), equivalent to 1.1 tonnes of CO2 emitted by every person worldwide. 

Growing wind and solar are helping to reduce coal power emissions per capita in many G20 countries. The UK saw the most significant decline in coal power emissions per capita in the last seven years, dropping by 93% and bringing it far below the global average, followed by France (-63%), Italy (-50%), and Brazil (-42%). 

The top two polluters, Australia and South Korea, also had their per capita coal emissions fall by 26% and 10% respectively since 2015 as a result of growing clean power generation. But it’s not yet enough to push them down the ranks and close to the global average. 

Continued reliance on coal power led Australia to emit more than 4 tCO2 per individual and South Korea over 3 tCO2 per individual in 2022. This is approximately three times the global average of 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide. However, mature economies like Australia and South Korea should be targeting a coal power phase-out by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)

Other coal-dependent G20 countries also experienced notable rises in per capita emissions in the past seven years, including Indonesia (+56%), Türkiye (+41%), China (+30%) and India (+29%), as a result of rapidly growing demand outpacing the growth in clean generation. Overall, G20 per capita emissions have shown minimal changes since 2015.

China and India are often blamed as the world’s big coal power polluters. But when you take population into account, South Korea and Australia were the worst polluters still in 2022. As mature economies, they should be scaling up renewable electricity ambitiously and confidently enough to enable coal to be phased out by 2030.

Dave Jones Global Insights Lead, Ember

Australia is a world champion for all the wrong reasons. We’re not only the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter, we’re first in the world when it comes to coal emissions per capita, and are becoming increasingly isolated globally in our reliance on coal. Even as Australia’s latest emissions data shows just how much work there is to do to meet our climate targets, the conversation is not about a rapid transition away from coal-fired power, it’s about how to delay the closure of our coal power stations further.

Polly Hemming Director, Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy program

South Korea has repeated its commitment to implement climate policy, signing the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement at COP26 in 2021 and joining the Climate Club recently at this year's G7. But these results today clearly show that Korea's commitment is in danger. The Korean government should immediately take measures to reduce coal power generation, such as raising the ratio of paid allocation of carbon credits, which currently stands at only 10 percent, and strengthening the environmental dispatch in the power market.

Jeehye Park Program Director, Plan 1.5
G20 could make or break global efforts to accelerate clean power

The G20 nations are at a critical juncture to show leadership and drive global actions to end fossil fuels and usher in an era of clean power. As the world’s largest economies, the G20 has the opportunity to prepare the scene at the G20 Summit and show that investing in renewables, rather than persisting with coal dependency, brings multiple benefits. 

Tripling renewable capacities by 2030 is necessary to keep 1.5C within reach and is feasible when complemented with robust policy measures, secure technology supply chains, effective integration of solar and wind, and increased deployment in emerging economies. This in turn will help drive and accelerate the phasedown of coal and other fossil fuels.

India, as the host of the G20 summit, has the opportunity to assume climate leadership in the G20 and hold the bloc accountable. India's plans to ramp up renewable energy seem to align well with the COP28 president's call for tripling renewables by 2030. India's early backing to this call can not only influence the G20 into action but also ensure that the developed countries bring their per capita emissions down.

Aditya Lolla Asia Programme Lead, Ember