Efficiency not enough to curb Aus energy use

Since the early 2000s, Australian industry and households have been encouraged to save water as the country suffered through the Millennium drought. More recently, attention has also turned to reducing energy consumption and emissions

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But despite smaller environmental footprints per household and per dollar of production in the economy, Australia is using more water and energy every year, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

"Agricultural use was the main driver of an increase in water consumption but energy use, GHG emissions and waste generation also rose across the economy."

The latest Environmental-Economic Accounts from the ABS help “provide a greater understanding of the consequences of production on water, energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions”.

The Accounts show that for each unit of output produced in 2016-17, the economy used less energy and generated fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but consumed more water than the previous year. 

For households, water and energy use and GHG emissions were all lower per household in 2016-17 but this was not enough to offset growth in the number of households.

These efficiency gains by industry and households didn’t prevent a rise in total resource use and emissions in 2016-17 which included:

  • Water consumption rising by 2.9 per cent in 2016-17, driven by higher demand in the agriculture sector. This occurred after three years of falling water consumption from its peak in 2012-13 (driven by the agriculture and utilities industries);
  • GHG emissions rising by 0.4 per cent, the second consecutive annual increase following an extended period of decline;
  • Energy use increasing by 2.2 per cent; and
  • Waste generated increasing by 2.8 per cent over the two years to 2016-17.

While there has been improvement over time in the way industry and households use Australia’s natural resources, our efficiency gains have not been enough to offset the impact of growth in our economy and population.

Without a more profound shift, we will not be able to curb our consumption of water and energy or our generation of emissions and waste.

Catherine Birch is Senior Economist and Adelaide Timbrell is an Economist at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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