Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Rethinking Australia’s Carbon Abatement Contracts

By Bill Burrows

Australia’s total net CO2 emissions are much lower than are implied by published numbers.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Australia is often described as one of the world’s leading emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a consequence of our small population, advanced economy and relatively large land area.

Crucially, Australia’s poor ranking is a consequence of sources and sinks from the land use and forestry sectors being included or excluded from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases, while a carbon source is anything that releases more carbon than it absorbs. Forests, soils, oceans and the atmosphere all store carbon, which moves between them in a continuous cycle.

However, huge areas of native vegetation have not been taken into account when compiling Australia’s carbon budgets. The nation has essentially reported CO2 emissions that have been “measured” and directly identified with human activities – rather than those that mirror Australia’s true input to CO2 content in the global atmosphere.

A less selective and more meaningful analysis of CO2 fluxes would report net emissions –when all known sinks (sequestered amounts) of CO2 are subtracted from all known sources.

Satellite-based spectral sensors now enable net CO2 emissions to be measured with accuracy and precision. The fact that we are an island continent adds to the integrity of the values reported (compared with countries in Europe, for...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.