NSW emissions

Estimates of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the Australian Department of Environment and Energy. NSW emissions in 2016/17 (financial year 2017), the latest year of data, were 131.5 million tonnes CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent), with stationary energy (which generates heat and electricity) the largest contributing sector. NSW emissions represent 25% of Australia's total emissions while NSW is home to around one third of Australia's population, and over 30% of national gross domestic product [i].

Over eighty percent of NSW emissions come from the extraction, processing and burning of fossil fuels, primarily coal. Almost seventy percent of emissions are in the form of carbon dioxide, with methane emissions the next largest form of emissions.

Sources of emissions

Types of gaseous emissions

Trends in emissions

NSW emissions were 24.6% lower in 2017 than in 1990 due mainly to a reduction in the rate of land clearing. Emissions from agriculture, waste and fugitive emissions from fuels were also lower than in 1990, with 2017 emissions from industrial processes being similar to levels emitted in 1990.

In the fossil fuel burning sectors, emissions from electricity generation are 16% higher than in 1990, with transport emissions having increased by 48% between 1990 and 2017.

NSW greenhouse gas emissions and trends

Stationary Energy – 66 million tonnes (50% of total emissions)

Half of all NSW emissions in 2017 were from the stationary energy sector, primarily from public electricity production. Emissions in the sector grew steadily from 1990 to 2008, but since 2008 have decreased due to reduced energy demand during the global financial crisis, increased energy efficiency and more electricity generation from renewable energy sources.

Burning fossil fuels accounts for over 99% of emissions in the sector. Coal combustion alone produces 51.3 million tonnes of emissions annually or 39% of all NSW greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport – 28 million tonnes (21% of total emissions)

Transport emissions are currently the second largest component of NSW greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 1990 transport emissions have increased by 9 Mt, with 2017 emissions 48% higher than 1990 levels. This is an average increase in transport emissions of 1.8% per year. This reflects activity increases across transport modes due to population and economic growth.

The major source of transport emissions is road transport which accounts for 85% of all NSW transport emissions. This reflects the importance of motor vehicles for passenger, light commercial and freight transport within the state.

Emissions from aviation, rail and shipping account for the remaining 15%.

Fugitive emissions from fuels – 14 million tonnes (11% of total emissions)

The fugitive emissions from fuels sector includes emissions from coal mining and oil and gas recovery, transport and storage. Fugitive emissions in NSW are dominated by emissions from coal mining (90% of all fugitive emissions).

Most fugitive emissions in NSW come from underground (11.2 Mt) and surface (1.4 Mt) coal mines.

Fugitive emissions grew during the mining boom but have fallen since 2007.

Industrial processes and product use – 13 million tonnes (10% of total emissions)

Emissions in the industrial processes and product use category include a variety of primarily chemical processes involved in industrial production. The sector covers a wide range of activities including: iron and steel production; production of cement; lime production; limestone and dolomite use; chemical manufacturing and aluminium production.

Agriculture – 19 million tonnes (15% of total emissions)

The primary source of agricultural emissions is methane produced as cows and sheep digest their food, known as enteric fermentation. These emissions accounted for 71% of all NSW agricultural emissions (14 Mt).

Although emissions from agriculture have reduced by 22% since 1990, they have increased in the past two inventory years.

Agricultural emissions decreased by 3% per annum from 2000 to 2009 as a result of decreased production associated with the Millennium drought which affected much of the state. For example, sheep numbers fell by over 40% from 2000 to 2010. Since 2010 sheep numbers have increased to be about 17% by 2017.

Waste – 3 million tonnes (2% of total emissions)

Waste emissions are divided into solid waste disposal on land (landfills), which accounts for most waste emissions (2 Mt), and wastewater handling (sewage treatment).

Since 1990 emissions from waste have decreased by 57% as increased waste associated with growing populations and industrial production have been offset by higher recycling rates and methane recovery at landfills.

Land use change and forestry – minus 13 million tonnes (-10% of total emissions)

This sector includes emissions from land clearing and deforestation with carbon sequestered from reforestation activities. Overall, the sector was a net sink of emissions, helping to reduce total NSW emissions by 10% in 2017.

Emissions from land clearing have fallen dramatically since 1990. In 1990 26.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted because of land clearing. Since then changes to the management of land clearing have reduced land clearing emissions.

At the same time forest plantings for carbon sequestration projects have emerged as a new industry capable of helping NSW reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


How does NSW compare with the rest of the world?

NSW annual emissions per capita reduced from 29.9 tonnes CO2-e per capita in 1990 to 16.7 tonnes per capita in 2017. In comparison, annual emissions per capita in the UK, Germany and Japan are in the range of 7-11 tonnes CO2-e per capita.

Australia's comparatively high per capita emissions are due to our relative abundance of cheap fossil fuels, high dependence on coal-fired power generation and the emissions intensity of our exports (such as aluminium, steel and coal).

Find out more about the following emissions topics:


[i] 5220.0 - Australian National Accounts: State Accounts, 2017-18.


All charts and trend graphs have been sourced from the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System (AGEIS), except where otherwise noted.