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The world's worst greenhouse polluter

At the 1997 negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, an Australian environmentalist wore a paper bag over his head -- he was too ashamed of his government's stand to show his face. Australia won special concessions at Kyoto and is allowed to increase its carbon dioxide emissions. Now, the Australia Institute has claimed that Australia emits 25 per cent more carbon dioxide per capita than the US and more than double most European Union countries. Combined with its pedatory land clearance, this makes Australia one of the world's worst environmental gluttons.

World worst on greenhouse gas

Australia has overtaken the United States as the world's worst greenhouse gas polluter, according to an analysis of United Nations statistics.

Calculated on a per capita basis, Australia emits 25 per cent more carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, than the US and more than double that of most European Union countries.

The analysis by the Australia Institute, which is closely aligned with green lobby groups, found three main reasons for Australia's high emissions: its dependence on coal-fired power, excessive land-clearing, in which burning or rotting vegetation emits gases, and livestock.

The conclusions will increase pressure on Australia to control its greenhouse emissions, particularly after revelations that land-clearing rates in Queensland have outstripped rates in the Amazon basin at the height of international condemnation in 1990-91.

The situation is likely to be raised at the latest UN climate change conference in Bonn this week, to be attended by the Federal Environment Minister, Senator Hill. A spokesman for Senator Hill said Australia had always been one of the world's highest producers of greenhouse gases because of its  reliance on coal-fired power.

But he acknowledged that the clearing of 1.8 million hectares of woodland a year in Queensland was weakening Australia's position under the 1997 Kyoto agreement, which set international targets for greenhouse reductions. At its worst, Brazil was clearing 1.2million hectares a year in the Amazon Basin.

Other developed nations are to reduce emissions below 1990 levels, but Australia was allowed an 8 per cent increase due to its reliance on fossil fuels.  While its energy emissions alone have increased 11 per cent, Australia argued it could meet the 8 per cent target because land-clearing had slowed and trees were being planted to absorb gases.

Land-clearing in Queensland has accelerated because landholders fear that penalties may be imposed in future. Sources said Senator Hill was considering drastic action to stop the destruction, which will also worsen the national salinity crisis.

Source: CLAIRE MILLER Sydney Morning Herald, 4-11-99