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.

G20 summit: Australia and South Korea the biggest coal power polluters, finds report

Overall G20 per capita coal emissions increased by about 9% from 1.5 tonnes of CO2 in 2015 to 1.6  tonnes of CO2 in 2022, says the report

With the G20 Leaders’ Summit only a couple of days away, here’s yet another analysis that demands urgent action. Ember released its third annual report on Changes in per capita coal power emissions of G20 countries. The analysis highlighted changes in per capita coal power emissions since 2015. The G20 represents about 80% of global power sector CO2 emissions, implying that the G20 could make or break global efforts to accelerate clean power.

According to the report, 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.

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.

Slow shift to clean power

The analysis said that in 2022, 36% of global electricity was powered by coal which emitted 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (tCO2), equivalent to 1.1 tonnes of CO2 emitted by every person worldwide. 

Having said that, 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%). 

While India saw a 29% increase in seven years in per capita coal emissions compared to 2015, the top two polluters, Australia and South Korea, 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, the report added.  

“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, ” said Dave Jones, Ember’s global insights lead. 

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,  according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), mature economies like Australia and South Korea should be targeting a coal power phase-out by 2030.

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.

Overall, 12 out of 20 G20 economies saw declining per capita coal emissions since 2015. However, overall G20 per capita coal emissions slightly increased by about 9% from 1.5  tonnes of CO2 in 2015 to 1.6  tonnes of CO2 in 2022. 

G20: Make it or break it

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. The deliberations around energy transition so far have been marred by disagreements around fossil fuel phase-outs and tripling of renewable energy targets. 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 1.5°C 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,” said Aditya Lolla, Asia programme lead, Ember. 

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