Rising emissions... there is an average of 24.3 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year for every person in Australia, a higher amount per capita than the US.

Rising emissions... there is an average of 24.3 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year for every person in Australia, a higher amount per capita than the US. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

AUSTRALIA'S greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise last year, driven by an increase in vehicle use and gases leaking from coalmines, federal government data show.

The nation released 546 million tonnes more carbon dioxide than its land mass absorbed last year, not including the data from changes in land use and logging, which is recorded separately.

This is a 0.6 per cent increase on the 2010 emissions figure, still below the nation's peak in 2008.

It keeps Australia within its international commitments, but only because it negotiated an unusually easygoing path for itself under the Kyoto Protocol. Under that deal, Australia's emissions can increase to 108 per cent of its 1990 greenhouse gas output; the present data puts the figure at 104 per cent.

The data does show that both population and economic output can be ''decoupled'' from rising greenhouse gases, with the population in 1990 only 17 million compared to 22.8 million today.

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said the rise was in line with government predictions, and showed the need for a carbon price to drive more investment in renewable energy.

''This reflects the long-term trend of growth in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and highlights the need for action on climate change,'' Mr Combet said in a statement.

The opposition said that since Australia was on course to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, there was no need for the government's carbon price legislation, which has a baseline for Australian emissions of 578 million tonnes.

''Australians are already playing their part in reducing emissions and caring for the environment,'' the opposition climate spokesman, Greg Hunt, said.

''Slugging people with an electricity tax on top of the massive rises to date is therefore not only unfair on families but also unnecessary and ineffective.''

The new data shows that emissions equal an average of 24.3 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year for every person in Australia, a higher amount per capita than the US, which also released its national greenhouse inventory for 2010 yesterday.

The US figures show rapid growth of 3.2 per cent to just over 6.8 billion tonnes in 2010, indicating swift recovery from the slump caused by the global financial crisis.

The most recent Australian data from 2009-10, which has now been submitted to the United Nations, shows NSW remained the state that emits the most greenhouse gas, though when averaged out per person, the average Queenslander emits more than twice the amount per capita.

Total emissions for NSW came to 157.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent gases, just ahead of Queensland on 157.3 million and Victoria on 117.9.

Fugitive emissions from coalmines - the methane trapped underground that can leak out as coal is dug up - showed the biggest increase as more coalmining took place around the country.

''The trend increase for the quarter was largely driven by increases in emissions from fugitive emissions as a result of increased mining of black coal,'' the government's report said.

Greenhouse emissions from electricity generation dropped slightly - from 196 to 194 million tonnes, suggesting that renewable energy is making up the increase in electricity generation.

Vehicle emissions rose about 4.8 per cent, from 83 million to 87 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

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