The Australian earth hour web site claims that Australia is the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita in the OECD. I've also heard this claim elsewhere.

DID YOU KNOW… Australia is the highest greenhouse gas polluter, on a per capita basis, among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries? This is because most of our electricity is currently produced by coal-fired power stations, making coal the number one source of carbon pollution in our country.

The ABS talks about Luxembourg and the United States having higher per capita carbon dioxide emissions (which is different from all greenhouse gases).

Wikipedia has a list of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita, but the data there is slightly out-dated.

Is Australia the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the OECD?

  • as far as you are asking for the highest, I'd say no. This is only about CO, but assuming a correlation newer statistsics on eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/… would corroborate the ratio shown on Wikipedia.
    – bummi
    Mar 23, 2013 at 8:21
  • Coal-fired power stations? That's new on me, I thought it was farting sheep and barbecues :)
    – Benjol
    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:32

1 Answer 1


This is going to be something of a sideways answer. I'm going to explain why it's possible to find a "yes" and a "no" to the question, and for them both to be justifiable, and both to be supported by good references!

There is no single unique calculation of total greenhouse gases emitted. One has to specify a particular boundary for the calculation; and the boundary one chooses, affects the answer. As your sources show: with one boundary, Australia will have the highest per-capita emissions; with another, it will not.

In particular there are three dimensions to the boundary that each make a big difference: the what, the where, and the when of emissions.

  1. What: The first is which emissions one includes: just CO2, or the Kyoto basket, or all significant greenhouse gases. And how thorough one is in measuring emissions from land use, land use-changes and forestry (LULUCF), and of fugitive emissions from extraction, transmission and distribution systems, and flaring

  2. Where: Whether one attributes fossil fuels emissions at the point of extraction (rare, but not unprecedented), or the point of combustion.

  3. When: What time horizon one selects: and that's because the ratio of greenhouse gases, and in particular the ratio of methane to CO2, varies between countries; and the global warming potential of methane, relative to CO2, varies significantly, depending on whether one uses a 20-year horizon (56:1), 100 years (20:1), 500 years (6.5:1), or whatever.

Australia, as your own references indicate, is one of the highest per-capita emitters in the world. It's a major coal miner, so has high fugitive methane emissions. Given those relatively high methane emissions, there are at least three ways that changing the system boundary would also increase Australia's calculated per-capita greenhouse=gas emissions, and thus potentially push it up the rankings:

  • counting methane as well as CO2, particularly if we include fugitive methane emissions from coal mining.
  • attributing by extraction rather than combustion;
  • using a shorter time horizon (NB this only works if methane is included in the calculation.)
  • you forgot sheep as methane emitters :) You also forgot as a criterion to mention whether differences in effectiveness of the material are calculated into the outcome. E.g. if methane has per mole twice the "greenhouse gas effect" or CO2, does each mole of methane get counted twice for each mole of CO2 in the outcome or now. Of course the AGW crowd only cares about CO2, it's their boogyman.
    – jwenting
    Mar 25, 2013 at 7:23
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    This is a really good answer, showing WHY and HOW you can fiddle with statistics to make referenced claims like that, and why a straight answer wont do then!
    – Wertilq
    Jul 4, 2013 at 7:50

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