New analysis: Australia’s energy transition among worst in OECD

When it comes to a clean energy transition, Australia is lagging significantly behind other countries according to new research published today by the Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program.

The research, authored by leading energy analyst Dr Hugh Saddler, shows that according to key indicators of decarbonisation and energy transition Australia ranks very poorly, and despite Federal Government claims to the contrary, Australia’s fossil fuel reliance for energy has in fact risen since 2005.

Figure: Performance ranking of Australia for key energy transition indicators in 2005 and 2019 (against 22 OECD economies & Russia)
Figure: Performance ranking of Australia for key energy transition indicators in 2005 and 2019 (against 22 OECD economies & Russia)

Key Findings:

  • Australia’s overall energy transition performance has been worse than the other 22 OECD economies and Russia
    • Transition performance was assessed in terms of indicators covering energy combustion emissions, primary energy consumption, energy productivity, fuel mix for electricity generation, and transport emissions.
    • In the last fifteen years, Australia had either maintained its back of the pack position or slipped even further on all metrics.
    • Against all indicators except one Australia’s performance is below the average level achieved by all other OECD countries and Russia.
  • Between 2005 to 2019 (pre-COVID), Australia has performed worse than any of the other 23 countries at reducing its energy dependence on fossil fuels in overall terms
    • The Australian economy remains the most emissions intensive energy system among OECD countries, with the exception of Poland.
    • Despite the Australian government prioritising productivity to meet its Paris Agreement target, Australia has achieved a smaller energy productivity increase than any of the other 23 countries.
    • Although there has been a significant increase in the share of wind and solar generation in the last decade, Australia still did not move forward in rankings given faster energy transitions taking place in the other OECD countries.
  • Australia’s energy sector now makes up a larger portion of its carbon footprint. In 2005 energy combustion emissions accounted for 58% of national emissions, however in 2019 it accounted for nearly three quarters (72%), with Australia being one of three of the 23 countries to have increased its total energy combustion emissions between 2005 and 2019.
  • Prior to COVID, in 2019 Australia had the third highest per capita transport emissions, behind only that of USA and Canada, and achieved a much smaller reduction in per capita transport emissions than either of those countries between 2005 and 2019.

“The research shows that Australia is not leading the race to reduce emissions in our economy, we are lagging at the back of the pack of developed countries,” said Dr Hugh Saddler, Honorary Associate Professor Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, and report author. 

“Despite the last decade of growth in solar and wind energy, fossil fuels still dominate Australia’s energy sector and its rate of electrification, that is getting off coal, oil and gas for energy, is one of the worst in the OECD.

“Over the last 15 years, Australia has squandered its golden opportunity to decouple its energy sector from fossil fuels, unlike so many other OECD countries. As a result Australians are left with high-polluting and inefficient power, heating, housing and transport. This also drives up our cost of living and drives down our energy productivity.

“Beyond the comparison with other countries, this report demonstrates that Australia’s so-called ‘gas-fired economic recovery’ runs absolutely counter to the needs of Australia’s energy system transition, and will only serve to make Australia’s emissions reduction performance even worse.”

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