How do we really stack up on climate action?
Statistics don’t lie: people lie and mislead.
Are our emissions falling?
This is the first in a short series of posts that checks out Coalition claims about Australia ‘meeting and beating’ its targets, and whether those targets actually match the Paris Agreement goals (2015) in the first place.
CLAIM 1: According to Goldstein’s MP Tim Wilson, “Australia has already reduced our emissions by 20% since 2005”.
CLAIM 2: According to Liberal Party Federal Director Andrew Hirst, “Australia’s emissions are falling and were lower last year than any year since 1990”.
Well yes, but:
- Australia’s reduction in emissions is all down to a reduction in land clearing and a consequent reduction from the land use sector that occurred in two waves between 1990 and 2012, especially in Queensland (see graph below). They are the outcome of policy changes by state governments; they have nothing to do with any Abbott, Turnbull, or Morrison Government policy.
- Since 2015, emissions from land clearing have slightly increased or stabilised. In no way can that past pace of reduction be extrapolated to predict future trends without a massive reforestation program.
- Inclusion of emissions from land clearing in the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory is an anomaly peculiar to Australia. It derives from what has become known as The Australia Clause, negotiated in the Howard era in a last-ditch attempt to get Howard to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol (1992). Subsequently, Howard backed down anyway
What about other sectors?
Over the period 2009 to 2019, there has been a reduction in emissions in electricity generation. If we exclude land use, the inclusion of which is controversial (as discussed above), then over the period from 2005 to 2019, Australia’s overall emissions actually increased by 7% according to a report by The Australia Institute [i] (see also the graph above, reproduced from The Conversation. [ii])
According to the Government-published ‘Update of Australia’s GHG Inventory: September 2020’, the most important sectoral drivers of Australia’s long-term emissions trend have been:
- Electricity generation: where emissions have fallen by 19.5% from their peak year in 2009, or an estimated* 41 Mt CO2-e. This outcome owes nothing to current federal government policy, but rather has been driven by a mix of state government policies, the residual effects of the previous Labor government’s Renewable Energy Target (that the Abbott Government rolled back), a period of high wholesale energy prices, declining technology costs and public pressure that forced banks and insurance companies to stop supporting fossil fuel investment. NB: Note: the base year used in the Inventory to showpiece these reductions is 2009, the peak year for energy emissions, rather than 1990, the base year for other emissions trends used by the Inventory, thus magnifying the emissions decline in this sector relative to the trend in other sectors.
Direct combustion (domestic, industry plus gas extraction and processing): where emissions have increased 53.3% or 35.4 Mt CO2-e, driven mostly by recent growth in the export of LNG.
- Transport: where emissions have increased 47.0% or 28.7 Mt CO2-e, (notwithstanding a decline in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic). Australia is the only OECD country without fuel efficiency standards. In fact, recent research shows that fuel efficiency in Australia is getting worse, not better. [iii] [iv]
Fugitive emissions: where emissions have increased 30.5% or 12.0 Mt CO2-e, due to a sharp growth of the LNG industry since 2015.
- Agriculture: where emissions have declined by 21.5% or 19.8 Mt CO2-e in line with declining cattle and sheep populations, due mostly to the massive stock wipe-out from recent cross border drought and floods, not something anyone wanted.
The bottom line
Setting emissions from land use aside (they cannot be used as an indicator of future trends), increases due to transport and gas extraction and combustion more than cancel out the reductions in the electricity sector and the unforeseen decline in the agriculture sector, resulting in a net increase of 7%.*
Author: David Rothfield, President.
Bayside Climate Crisis Action Group
Authorised by C Glascodine, Level 1, 9/214 Bay St Brighton 3186
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