NSW emissions

Estimates of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. NSW emissions in 2017/18 (financial year 2018), the most recent inventory of greenhouse gas data, were 131.7 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 32% 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 44.9 Mt CO2-e (or 25%) lower in 2018 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 2018 emissions from industrial processes being similar to levels emitted in 1990.

In the fossil fuel burning sectors, emissions from stationary energy are 6.4 Mt CO2-e (11%) higher than in 1990, and transport emissions have increased by 10.0 Mt CO2-e (53%) between 1990 and 2018.

NSW greenhouse gas emissions and trends

Stationary Energy - 67 million tonnes (51% of total emissions)

More than half of all NSW emissions in 2018 were from the stationary energy sector, primarily from energy industries. 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. However, emissions have been increasing again since 2015 as energy demands returned.

Burning fossil fuels accounts for over 99% of emissions in the sector. Coal combustion alone produces 53.5 million tonnes of emissions annually or 41% of all NSW greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport - 29 million tonnes (22% of total emissions)

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

Since 1990, transport emissions have increased by 10 Mt, with 2018 emissions 53% higher than 1990 levels. This is an average increase in transport emissions of 1.5% 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 86% 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 others account for the remaining 14%.

Fugitive emissions from fuels - 13 million tonnes (10% 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 (93% of all fugitive emissions).

Most fugitive emissions in NSW come from underground (10.4 Mt) and surface (1.7 Mt) coal mines.

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

Industrial processes and product use - 14 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.

Emissions in this sector have been static since 1990.

Agriculture - 18 million tonnes (14% of total emissions)

The primary source of agricultural emissions is methane produced by ruminants, such as cows and sheep as they digest their food. These emissions account for 70% of all NSW agricultural emissions (12.6 Mt) and are almost entirely composed of emissions from cattle and sheep.

Although emissions from agriculture have reduced by 31% since 1990, they have increased in 2016 and 2017. However, emissions decreased again in 2018 during the height of the drought, predominantly from reduction in the number of cattle There was an increase in emissions from sheep in 2018 compared to 2017.

Waste – 4 million tonnes (3% of total emissions)

Waste emissions are divided into solid waste disposal on land (landfills), which accounts for most waste emissions (3 Mt), and wastewater handling (sewage treatment).

Since 1990, emissions from waste have decreased by 41% as increased waste associated with growing populations and industrial production have been offset by higher recycling rates and methane recovery at landfills. However, emissions have increased from 3.5 Mt in 2017 to 4.3 Mt in 2018.

Land use, land use change and forestry – minus 13 million tonnes (-9% of total emissions)

This sector includes emissions from land clearing and deforestation with carbon sequestered through reforestation activities. Overall, the sector was a net sink of emissions, helping to reduce total NSW emissions from 145 Mt to 132 Mt (9%) in 2018.

Emissions from land sector have fallen dramatically since 1990. In 1990 27.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted, driven mainly by land clearing. Since then, changes in land clearing regulations and increasing regeneration, reforestation and afforestation have resulted in net carbon dioxide uptake in forests, other vegetation and soils in NSW within the land sector.

However, there has been consecutive decline in carbon sequestration by forests since 2016, resulting from simultaneous increasing emissions from deforestation and declining carbon sequestration in vegetation and soils due to lower regrowth and increase in timber harvesting.


Black carbon

Black carbon, in the form of airborne particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres in diameter, is emitted from combustion processes. In 2018, land sector contributes to 65% of NSW black carbon emissions through bushfires alongside with land management operations such as land clearing and post-harvest fires and hazard reduction burns according to UNFCCC method. The transport sector is the second largest contributor (27 %) due to diesel and petrol use by passenger and freight vehicles and kerosene use in aviation.


How does NSW compare with the rest of the world?

NSW annual emissions per capita reduced from 26 tonnes CO2e per capita in 1990 to 18 tonnes per capita in 2018. In comparison, annual emissions per capita in the UK, Germany and Japan are in the range of 7 to 10 tonnes CO2-e per capita in 2018.

Australia's comparatively high per capita emissions are due to our heavy reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal-fired power generation, and the emission 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 data have been sourced from the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System (AGEIS), except where otherwise noted.