Australian government scientists have found that greenhouse gases are being pumped into the earth's atmosphere faster than ever since the turn of the century. They have also found that emissions in Australia are increasing considerably faster than the global average. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
The sobering findings came in a report on climate change published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an American scientific journal.
Scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, say the global amount of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels has been increasing more rapidly since 2000 than it did during the 1990's.
The report estimates that global emissions have grown by about three percent per year in recent years, compared to one percent a year during the previous decade.
It says Australia is slightly behind the United States in per-capita greenhouse emissions, which are thought to contribute to global warming. But it says Australia's emissions are growing at twice the U.S. rate. On a person-by-person basis, Australia is ranked as one of the worst polluters in the developed world.
Mike Raupach, one of the scientists at CSIRO, says Australia must do more to clean up its act.
"Our emissions per person are near the top of the world league table, just below the United States - we're about the second or third country," he said. "Our own improvement in the energy efficiency of the economy and the carbon efficiency of the economy has been not as rapid as improvements in other developed countries."
According to the report, Australia's per-capita emissions in 2004 were four-point-five times the global average. Its carbon "intensity of energy," another measure of carbon emissions, was 20 per cent higher than the world average, and 25 to 30 per cent higher than the values for the U.S., Europe or Japan.
The country's greenhouse gas emissions come principally from electricity generation, and the majority of that is produced by coal-fired power stations.
The country's economy is booming - fueled by a lucrative trade in natural resources with China and India - which requires more electricity.
In addition, Australia is sparsely populated, and its people tend to drive long distances, adding to vehicle emissions.
Environmentalists have urged the government in Canberra to do more to address the problem of global warming.
Prime Minister John Howard insists he is taking the environmental challenges seriously. But he has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, saying it would cost jobs and damage Australian industry.