AUSTRALIA IS A developed country in the Southern Hemisphere. With a landmass of 2,941,299 mi. (7,617,930 sq. km.), it is the sixth largest country in the world, but is sparsely inhabited, with a population of approximately 21 million. Prior to federation in 1901, the continent of Australia was comprised of separate colonies and territories. The Commonwealth of Australia is now divided politically into six states and two major territories. Australia is also responsible for a number of minor territories, including Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands, and Norfolk Island.
Most of Australia's population is concentrated in the southeast of the country, although there has been rapid population growth in the northeast (Queensland) and in the southwest (Western Australia). The national capital is Canberra. The largest cities are Sydney and Melbourne (each with about 4 million residents); and Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, each with 1-2 million residents in 2006. Most of the population lives close to the coast. There are inland agricultural and mining towns, but the interior of the country is semi-arid or arid with little human settlement.
Indigenous people have inhabited the continent for at least 40,000 years. European and Asian exploration and trade occurred for hundreds of years before the arrival of the English. Dutch explorers, particularly those associated with the
Dutch East Indies Company, are known to have landed on Australia beginning at least early in the 17th century. They gave the land the name Terra Australis Incognita ("unknown southern land"). Captain James Cook claimed the land for England in 1770, and English settlement began in 1788, in what is now Sydney. The colonies developed at different rates, boosted by gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria in the 1850s, and in Western Australia in the late 1880s and 1890s. Mining booms have been significant, particularly coal mining in New South Wales and Queensland, and iron-ore mining in the northwest of Western Australia.
Climate change is an important issue for Australia, due to its position on the global political scene, its generation of greenhouse gases, and the potential impact of climate change for Australia. With regard to political positioning, in December 1992, Australia became the eighth country to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which had been signed by 155 countries in Rio de Janeiro. The most significant of the Conferences of the Parties (COP) held to develop and implement the framework was COP3 in Kyoto, Japan. At COP3 in 1997, the Annex One (developed) countries agreed to an average reduction of 5.2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from a base year of 1990 by the period 2008-12.
Australia signed up to an 8 percent increase in emissions over the same time period, but also managed to insert a clause into Article 3.7 of the Kyoto Protocol to allow the emissions from land clearing to be included in the total emissions by Australia in 1990. Land clearing had decreased between 1990 and 1997. The baseline inflation gave room for Australia to expand other sources of greenhouse gas emissions and potentially remain within the 108 percent target.
Australia and the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, citing the exclusion of countries such as China, India, and Brazil, plus Australia's unique economic structure (a large coal exporter and a very high greenhouse gas emitter per capita) and its national interest, as other reasons not to ratify the protocol. In February 2002, the U.S.-Australia Climate Action Partnership was established to work outside of the Kyoto Protocol framework. This concept was expanded in January 2006 into a new Asia-Pacific
Partnership on Clean Development and Climate Change, comprised of Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States.
Australia is working outside of the Kyoto Protocol because of the political stance of the government, Australia's economic structure, its emissions generation, and because of the likely impacts of climate change for Australia. Australia produces approximately 2.3 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which is a very high rate per capita. Australia is also connected through the coal chain to global greenhouse gas emissions. At a global level, Australia is a rare example of a country that exports most of the coal it mines. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter, with markets mainly in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and other European and Asian destinations. The Port of Newcastle is the largest exporter of coal by tonnage in the world.
Stationary energy/power stations (68 percent), agriculture (19.5 percent), and transport (14.2 percent) generated most of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in 2001. Industrial processes contributed only 4.6 percent of the total emissions. These aggregate figures do not account for the end use of the energy. The figures also highlight Australia's reliance upon fossil fuels. Australia's transport energy is predominantly petroleum; 84 percent of electricity in Australia is generated from coal.
The impacts of climate change will vary. Australia is vulnerable to drought, the ecosystems and biodiversity are prone to climate change in the long term, there are concerns that fires and insect outbreaks may be increased, and that coastal settlements are susceptible to flooding and erosion caused by sea-level rise. Inland temperatures are anticipated to increase more than temperatures in coastal locations, thereby making Australia very vulnerable to water shortages and threatening the health of rivers. By 2050, cities in northern Australia, such as Cairns, are likely to experience more intense tropical cyclones, with wind speeds likely to increase by 10 to 15 percent, the associated rainfall likely to increase by 20 to 30 percent; the area that is inundated by storm surges is likely to double.
There are innovative programs at federal, state, and local government levels in Australia that address the issue of climate change. These include Cities for Climate
Protection, which is coordinated and supported by the Australian Greenhouse Office and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. There are also business initiatives and environmental groups campaigning about climate change. Unfortunately, Australia's greenhouse gas emissions have been rising steadily since the 1990s, and as of 2004 were reported at 25 percent above 1990 levels.
sEE ALso: Drought; Economics, Cost of Affecting Climate Change; Economics, Impact of Climate Change; Energy, Renewable; Nuclear Power; Rainfall Patterns; Southern Oscillation.
BIBHoGRAPHY. Clive Hamilton, Running from the Storm: The Development of Climate Change Policy in Australia (University of New South Wales Press, 2001); Phil McM-anus, Vortex Cities to Sustainable Cities: Australia's Urban Challenge (University of New South Wales Press Press, 2005); UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data for the Period 1990-2004 and Status of Reporting (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, 2006).
Phil McManus University of Sydney
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