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Australians now world's best polluters -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: A report by a British risk analysis company says Australians have overtaken
Americans as the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluters.

The report relies on US Energy Department data to highlight the risks business would face in
Australia under a global emissions trading scheme.

It also illustrates how much work Australia will have to do if a global emissions reduction target
is introduced.

As Simon Lauder reports, it also means Australia will have a more difficult time convincing
developing countries to take responsibility for cutting emissions.

SIMON LAUDER: Whether you look at Australia's emissions in total or per head of population, it's
really just another way of illustrating how hard global climate negotiations are.

Poor countries have more to gain by continuing to pollute and rich countries have more to lose by
reining it in.

The chair of climate change at the University of Adelaide professor Barry Brook says even compared
to other developed countries Australia would have a lot more to cut.

BARRY BROOK: The whole idea of per capita emissions means that for each person you're responsible
for more carbon reduction than someone in an economy which has a much lower carbon production such
as France for instance which has about a third of the amount of carbon emissions of an Australian.

SIMON LAUDER: UK risk assessment company, Maplecroft, puts Australia at the very top of the chart
when it comes to per capita emissions of CO2.

Maplecroft finds Australia's heavy reliance on coal makes for an average output of 20.58 tonnes of
carbon dioxide per person per year, compared to 19.78 in the USA.

China which recently overtook the US as the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter overall has a
per capita average of about 4.5 tonnes per person.

Tony Mohr from the Australian Conservation Foundation says the ranking will be noted by the
international business community.

TONY MOHR: This new report has been produced by a business for businesses and that really shows
that the leading businesses are interested in what's going on. Most businesses in Australia already
understand that it's a matter of when, not if we have a price on greenhouse pollution.

SIMON LAUDER: Dan Atkins managing director of the Shaper group, which gets paid to help companies
cut their carbon footprint. Mr Atkins says the top polluter status Australians have gained will
damage the Australian brand overseas.

DAN ATKINS: It's certainly not going to increase our reputation if we remain that way in the next
five to 10 years.

SIMON LAUDER: He says growing awareness of "food miles" is something that will directly impact on
countries which use coal fired electricity.

DAN ATKINS: With Australia being so high in terms of CO2, that's going to put us at a competitive
disadvantage both in terms of brand but also in terms of the actual volume of those carbon
labelling systems. So that's going to put Australian companies who export at a competitive
disadvantage.

SIMON LAUDER: But not everyone buys the argument that business is damaged by Australia's ranking as
the number one carbon emitter per capita.

The chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, Mitch Hooke:

MITCH HOOKE: That just takes us into a blame game. And really the whole argument about climate
change should be about commitments to solutions, not seeking concessions, not getting into this
business where the developing countries who have a lot more people and therefore lower per capita
emissions think there should be less obligation on them to reduce emissions than the developed
economies.

That's why we have this continual per capita debate. It's about trying to sheet blame, it's about
trying to sheet responsibility. Yet in actual fact everybody has got to focus on solutions to
managing climate change.

SIMON LAUDER: You dismiss that argument at the same time as using the argument that Australia is
less that 2 per cent of the global emissions in total. Why isn't it legitimate to look at it
another way, in terms of per capita?

MITCH HOOKE: The argument that actual goes to the fundamental point and that is, what can we
actually do? If we're less than 2 per cent of global emissions, even if we said okay we'll shut
down the Australian economy, we're only going to contribute 2 per cent.

The accent should be on technologies and developing solutions to managing climate change, not
getting into this internecine warfare about who has the greater degree of responsibility.

I'm saying to you, even if we accepted that we're the highest per capita and therefore that means
we should be doing more, you still can't do it if you don't have the technologies. And you still
can only shut down the Australian economy to the tune of contributing to about 1.5 per cent of
emissions to the global problem.

It begs the question, what more do you want?

SIMON LAUDER: The UN Climate Conference is just months away.

Professor Barry Brook from Adelaide University says the two different ways of deciding who is the
biggest polluter is likely to be the biggest stumbling block.

BARRY BROOK: So it's a bit of a political game like that. Australia has about five times the per
capita emissions of China for instance but China produces over 20 times the carbon emissions of
Australia because China has such a huge population.

So you can play around with these numbers all you want but ultimately what matters is the total
global carbon budget and unless humanity as a whole can find solutions to that problem then all of
that petty bickering amongst nations about who's more or less responsible isn't really going to be
very helpful.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the chair of climate change at the University of Adelaide, professor
Barry Brook, ending that report from Simon Lauder.