SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia is the world's third-largest emissions exporter, with more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide shipped abroad each year in the form of coal and liquefied natural gas, a think tank study showed on Monday (Aug 19).
The left-leaning Australian Institute reported that Australia's energy exports rank behind only oil giants Russia and Saudi Arabia in terms of emissions potential.
"Australia makes up 29 per cent of world coal trade by CO2 potential," the report - based on International Energy Agency data - said, calling for more focus on who supplies the energy driving global warming.
"Treaties and status quo debate focuses on demand for carbon, rather than supply," author Tom Swann wrote.
"This ignores the fact that increasing supply and supply infrastructure will tend to 'lock in' increased emissions."
The debate over coal and LNG production is highly partisan in Australia, with residents often voting for job creation over environmental concerns - even in drought and flood-struck regions.
The conservative government has played down concerns about climate change in favour of keeping the economically important industries ticking over.
Authorities in Queensland state recently approved the construction of a giant coal mine that could open a vast new basin up for coal exploitation.
Most of what is dug up will go to India and eventually to supply electricity to Bangladesh.
Critics argue that Australia's steady supply of coal only sustains demand. Supporters say the prevalence of coal-fired power stations mean customers will remain dependent on coal regardless.
Australia's refusal to ease coal exports has prompted a rift with low-lying Pacific island neighbours whose countries are threatened by rising sea levels.