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New South Wales State of the Environment
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Climate Change

SoE 2009 > Climate Change > 2.2 NSW greenhouse gas emissions

Chapter 2: Climate Change

2.2 NSW greenhouse gas emissions

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Climate Change

2.2 NSW greenhouse gas emissions

New South Wales greenhouse gas emissions have remained relatively steady since 1990 with per capita emissions declining by 15% since then to 23.6 tonnes, which is below the national average.

While overall NSW emissions have been stable, emissions from agriculture, land clearing, waste and industry have declined and those from stationary energy and transport have increased. It will not be possible to reduce overall emissions without reversing this growth.

Action to mitigate and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is essential if very negative long-term climate changes are to be avoided. The national emissions trading scheme proposed by the Australian Government will be the primary driver of mitigation, but there is an important role for NSW to introduce complementary measures on energy efficiency and facilitate the generation of cleaner energy.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status


Information availability

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases



Annual per capita greenhouse gas emissions



Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2009 the front of the report.

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Atmospheric concentrations of all greenhouse gases have shown a sharp increase since the mid-20th century, with a simultaneously sharp increase in global temperature over the same period (IPCC 2007a, pp.3–6). It is 'very likely' (>90% probability) that most of the recent temperature increases are due to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from anthropogenic emissions (IPCC 2007a, p.665).

While the range of effects on the Earth's temperature is complex, the single largest contributor to global warming since the industrial revolution (around 1750) has been the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, followed by a combination of all other greenhouse gases (IPCC 2007a, p.4). Carbon dioxide is released primarily by the production, distribution and consumption of fossil fuels and other industrial activity. More than 75% of the increase in carbon dioxide concentration since pre-industrial times is from these activities (IPCC 2007a, p.512). Land-use changes, including land clearing, also contribute to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

NSW is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for domestic power generation, export income and transport. Increasing energy consumption and use of motor vehicles will create challenges for NSW to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

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Status and trends

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Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations

Since 1750 the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 379 ppm in 2005 (IPCC 2007a, p.2). The current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeds the natural range of ~170–300 ppm over the last 800,000 years, as identified by ice core measurements (Lüthi et al. 2008). An Australian Government initiative to study atmospheric gas composition at Cape Grim, Tasmania, has monitored the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide since 1976 (Figure 2.2). The rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is greatly influenced by increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 2.2: Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at Cape Grim, Tasmania

Figure 2.2

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Source: CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station; Australian Bureau of Meteorology data 2009

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Greenhouse gas emissions

Total greenhouse gas emissions are quantified using carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e), a measure used to compare the global warming potential of various greenhouse gases relative to the concentration of carbon dioxide.

Global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, and have increased by more than 70% since 1970 (IPCC 2007b). Since 2000, total global emissions have increased at a faster rate. In NSW, greenhouse gas emissions declined after 1990, when total emissions were 161 megatonnes (Mt), to a low of 150 Mt in 1996, due mainly to lower emissions from reduced land clearing. Since 1997, however, growth in emissions from the energy sector has resulted in emissions returning to levels similar to those in 1990 (Figure 2.3) (DCC 2009). As the emissions reduction attributable to reduced land clearing was a singular occurrence, the growth in emissions from energy generation and transport will cause rising overall emissions if no cap or reduction measures are in place.

In 2007, total NSW greenhouse gas emissions were 163 Mt CO2-e, which represented 27% of Australia's total emissions (DCC 2009).

Figure 2.3: Total NSW greenhouse gas emissions

Figure 2.3

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Source: DCC 2009

Emissions from the stationary energy sector account for half of total NSW greenhouse gas emissions, with electricity generation from fossil fuels the major contributor (61 Mt CO2-e) (DCC 2009). During 2007 electricity generation from fossil fuels accounted for over 37% of all emissions in NSW. Emissions from stationary energy have grown from 60 Mt in 1990 to 79 Mt in 2007, a 33% increase.

Transport accounts for approximately 13% of NSW greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of transport emissions are from cars (58%), with trucks and buses (19%) and light commercial vehicles (15%) contributing significantly (DCC 2009). The transport sector is highly emissions-intensive with its reliance on fossil fuels which provide 99.9% of transport energy in Australia (Diesendorf et al. 2008). In NSW, transport emissions have grown from 18 Mt CO2-e in 1990 to 21 Mt CO2-e in 2007 (Figure 2.4).

Agriculture (11%), fugitive emissions (10%), industrial processes (7%), and land use, land-use change and forestry (7%) are other significant components of NSW greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural emissions are dominated by emissions from livestock, with 74% from ruminants, such as cattle and sheep (DCC 2008). Emissions from agriculture and industrial processes have declined since 1990, primarily due to reduced livestock numbers as a result of drought as well as improvements in industrial practices. Net emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry have also substantially declined due to reduced land clearing and increased reafforestation as a result of land clearing legislative reform (Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4: NSW greenhouse gas emissions components, 1990 and 2007

Figure 2.4

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Source: DCC 2009

Although 33% of all Australians live in NSW, in 2007 the state was responsible for only 27% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions (ABS 2008; DCC 2009). NSW has reduced its energy use per capita and increased its production of wealth per unit of emissions. NSW per capita emissions, which are below the Australian average of 28.3 tonnes CO2-e, have declined from 27.5 tonnes in 1990 to 23.6 tonnes in 2007, a reduction of approximately 15% (DCC 2009). NSW emissions per unit of economic output – gross state product (GSP) – have declined significantly from 0.8 tonnes CO2-e per $1000 GSP in 1990 to 0.5 tonnes CO2-e per $1000 GSP in 2007 (ABS 2008; DCC 2009). This reflects strong growth in low-emitting sectors of the economy.

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NSW is heavily reliant on coal for both domestic power generation and export income. Almost half of the state's greenhouse gas emissions are from coal, primarily from coal-fired power plants but also from fugitive emissions from coal mining. Both fugitive and stationary energy emissions have increased since NSW State of the Environment 2006 (DEC 2006). Energy consumption in NSW has been steadily increasing since 1990 (see Human Settlement 3.2) and emissions from energy generation are expected to continue to grow. Transport is the second-largest source of NSW emissions, and these emissions have remained steady since SoE 2006. Agricultural emissions from livestock also contribute significantly, although emissions from livestock are also declining. The offset effect of reafforestation and reduced land clearing is also declining.

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Emissions reduction

NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme

NSW has been leading the way on climate change policy in Australia for many years. The NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme (GGAS) commenced in 2003 and was the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world. Since 2003, GGAS has provided incentives for 204 greenhouse-friendly projects which have saved or offset 69 Mt of greenhouse gas emissions up to the end of 2007.

It is recognised, however, that reducing CO2-e levels in the atmosphere requires a global effort. A coordinated response from federal and state governments is required to achieve uniformity and consistency in climate change policies and outcomes. The Australian Government has proposed a federal emissions trading scheme (ETS) to start in 2011.

The NSW Government will focus on measures to reduce the cost to NSW households, communities and businesses of adapting to a national ETS. The Government will also focus on facilitating adoption of cleaner energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal and distributed gas generation), energy efficiency and State Plan 2006 targets (NSW Government 2006).

State Plan 2006

State Plan 2006: A new direction for NSW commits the NSW Government to slowing and reversing the projected growth of greenhouse gas emissions (NSW Government 2006). Under Priority E3(b), the targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions are:

  • a return to year 2000 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025
  • a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

State Plan 2006 also identified the increased use of renewable energy as a key priority (Priority E2(b)). A review of State Plan 2006 commenced in August 2009 and this may adjust some of the plan's priorities and targets.

NSW Greenhouse Plan

Since 2005 the main NSW policy framework on climate change has been the NSW Greenhouse Plan which outlines strategic actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions and achieve emissions reductions by addressing such areas as energy generation, energy efficiency and transport (NSW Government 2005). The plan set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2025 and reduce emissions by 60% by 2050 and recommended the establishment of the Climate Change Fund, with an initial $340 million in funding.

Climate Change Action Plan

The Climate Change Action Plan, currently under development, will be the new strategic plan outlining how the NSW Government will address climate change by providing leadership and education, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and maximising prosperity in a low-carbon economy.

Climate Change Fund

The NSW Government established the Climate Change Fund (CCF) in 2007 to provide financial support from 2007 to 2012 for business, government agencies and local councils to implement projects which will save water, energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The CCF comprises a number of funding programs now totalling $717 million until 2012. Projects approved under the former Energy Savings Fund are also now administered under the CCF as are programs announced under the NSW Energy Efficiency Strategy in June 2008.

In the first year of the CCF the NSW Government provided 22,271 rebates to NSW families and invested in 227 projects producing savings of:

  • more than $59 million on water and energy bills
  • 260,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to taking 57,000 cars off the road)
  • 16 billion litres of water (equivalent to the capacity of 6400 Olympic swimming pools).

The CCF also stimulates investment in innovative water- and energy-savings measures, increases public awareness and acceptance of the importance of climate change, and promotes water- and energy-savings measures.

Clean Coal Fund and Clean Coal Council

The Clean Coal Administration Act 2008 established the Clean Coal Fund and Clean Coal Council to support the development and acceleration of low emission coal technologies in NSW. The council's members include representatives from industry (generators and coal producers) and government who advise the Minister on funding priorities from the Clean Coal Fund, to which the NSW Government has committed $100 million.

State Environment Planning Policy 46 and the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 were important responses to stopping inappropriate broadscale clearing, which has historically been a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (see Biodiversity 7.1). The Native Vegetation Act 2003 continues this important work.

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Renewable energy generation and energy efficiency

The NSW and federal governments are focusing on renewable energy generation and energy efficiency as key responses to the increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This has included establishing a Renewable Energy Target, planning renewable energy precincts and encouraging the purchase of GreenPower (see Human Settlement 3.2).

The NSW Energy Efficiency Strategy includes a new Energy Savings Scheme which has been legislated to drive investment in cost-effective energy efficiency measures in NSW, building on the achievements of GGAS. A number of energy efficiency programs, covering small businesses, low-income households and communities, operate under the NSW Energy Efficiency Action Plan and are funded from the CCF. Strategies and programs targeting renewable energy and energy efficiency are discussed in detail in Human Settlement 3.2.

The National Energy Efficiency Strategy, developed by the federal, state and territory governments through the Council of Australian Governments, will improve economic performance and reduce the cost of greenhouse gas mitigation and consumer bills.

Green skills

The NSW Government is also investing in green skills to ensure the workforce is well placed to tackle climate change. This is initially a three-tiered approach with the Government providing $20 million towards the NSW Green Skills Strategy enabling workers to be trained to make the transition to a low-carbon future. The Board of Vocational Education and Training's Green Business Skills Incentives Scheme, which commenced in July 2009, is aimed at small and medium businesses to train their workforce in green skills. The Green Skills Taskforce, consisting of key business, environment, training and government members, will provide further input to the implementation of the Government's Green Skills Agenda.

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NSW Government Sustainability Policy

The NSW Government Sustainability Policy sets targets and strategies to lead by example in sustainable water use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy, waste and fleet management, and sustainable purchasing (DECC 2008). The policy ensures Government agencies consider sustainability in all relevant decision-making, are more efficient in their use of energy and water, produce less waste and increase recycling (see also People and the Environment 1.3). This policy is monitored by the NSW Government through an annual progress report which summarises energy and water consumption, fleet improvement, use of biofuels and waste management from key end uses (including health and education). The NSW Government will also produce a detailed whole-of-government sustainability report every three years.

Building Sustainability Index

The NSW Government developed the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) to ensure that homes are designed to use less potable water and produce lower greenhouse gas emissions by setting energy and water reduction targets for residences. Since July 2004, new single residential dwellings in NSW have been required to achieve a reduction of up to 40% in water consumption and, since July 2006, a reduction of up to 40% in greenhouse gas emissions, compared with the average NSW dwelling. For BASIX-compliant single residential dwellings built during 2005–08, this has achieved savings of 5.7 billion litres of urban water and reduced CO2-e emissions by 173,000 tonnes, equivalent to saving the water capacity of 2275 Olympic-sized swimming pools and taking 39,000 cars off the road each year, respectively (DoP 2008).

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Future directions

Under the Climate Change Action Plan, the NSW Government will lead and prepare NSW for a low-carbon economy by embracing new technologies such as renewable technologies through renewable energy precincts and energy efficiency.

A federal ETS, projected to commence in 2011, will be the primary mechanism to reduce emissions. Through the plan, however, NSW will continue to lead with policies complementary to the ETS to ensure all effective abatement opportunities are pursued. The NSW Government will focus on clean and efficient energy, as this cuts the cost of mitigation and helps position the state for even deeper cuts in emissions towards the 2050 goal and beyond.

Continued commitment to programs aimed at reducing emissions through mechanisms, such as regulation, education, and business and community partnerships, will provide a solid basis for future initiatives. Ongoing evaluation and adjustments to these programs, coupled with continued development and innovation in technologies, will provide future opportunities to assist in greenhouse gas reduction.

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