Thursday, November 02, 2006

So what if Australia produces more greenhouse gases per capita than any other country?

Many critics of Australia's response (or lack thereof) to its greenhouse gas emission complain that we've got the highest emissions per capita of any country on earth. Well, so what?

The reality is that Australia, for some commodities, is the world's leading supplier. Aluminium metal is the most obvious, but there are others, including titanium dioxide pigment and semi-processed nickel matte from Kambalda.

But what would global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions be like if, instead of Australia doing this processing with modern plants using the world's best technologies, China and India were operating their own plants? My guess is that these countries would be using old plants with old technology and, for electricity production, they'd be using some of the dirtiest coal produced anywhere on the planet. Sure, Australia's GHG emissions would be lower, but overall global emissions would be far higher.

The debate has been won by those who accept the reality of human-caused global warming. So now we should focus on how the world - not just Australia - can lower GHG emissions. If we had a genuinely global agreement (not this silly Kyoto agreement which is, was and for ever will be ineffective) with a global carbon tax and a global carbon emission trading scheme, then those countries that produced aluminium metal with the lowest GHG emissions per tonne of finished product would probably have the cheapest sale prices and hence would have a major market advantage over other producers (all other things being equal). This could mean that Australia continues to produce the world's cleanest aluminium or it could be China or the USA or whoever. Who cares, so long as the world lowers its total GHG emissions. For iron and steel production, the cleanest may be Germany or Japan or, using new clean technology, it could be China.

The fact that Australia produces more GHG per capita is an absolutely irrelevant statistic. If we accept that the world will continue to consume aluminium and titanium dioxide and nickel, etc, we should demand an international agreement be negotiated that will result in the cleanest production technologies being used right around the world.

What Tim Colebatch from the Age with his recent newspaper article or Al Gore with his recent campaign event (sorry, I'm referring to his movie!) are really trying to do is make Australians feel guilty because we have some of the the cleanest commodity production processes and operations in the world. As Abraham Lincoln was (wrongly) attributed as saying, "you don't strengthen the weak by weakening the strong". Similarly, you don't close down the world's best and cleanest producers of globally-traded commodities in order to allow some of the world's dirtiest processing countries to produce even more greenhouse gases.

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