Fail on emissions

What’s going on with Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? The public is again in the dark, it seems, over the current rate of greenhouse gas pollution, with the federal government once again failing to disclose the latest information, says the Climate Council.

Acting chief executive Dr Martin Rice said “The government has a responsibility to release Australia’s quarterly National Greenhouse Gas Inventory in a timely fashion so that we can tell how our greenhouse gas pollution levels are tracking. We’re waiting on data that should have been released six months ago.”

He describes it as a case of déjà vu, following a similar failure last year to release a backlog of climate data.

“Australia’s emissions have been consistently rising, but time and time again the government has delayed releasing crucial information. We are still waiting on complete national emissions data for the March and July quarters of this year,” Dr Rice said.

What we do know is that Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels have been rising for three consecutive years. The Department of Environment and Energy reported that in 2017 Australia released 554 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and the rate is tipped to keep rising to 2030.

Electricity generation accounted for 190 Mt of carbon dioxide, contributing 34 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, with coal fired power being the largest culprit, followed by direct combustion for home heating and industry, transport and agriculture

Dr Rice has called the Department of Environment and Energy only to be told the 2018 data is “still under review” with no clear release date. That sounds a bit ominous to us, others too.

“This has become a worryingly familiar scenario. The Federal Government not only delays releasing climate information, it also tries to bury it. We’ve seen emissions data quietly released on Christmas Eve, or on a Friday evening, at a time it’s least likely to attract attention or scrutiny,” said Dr Rice, adding the fact that Australia’s climate policy is at stalemate.

“[This is] at a time when we really need to be ramping up climate action. Increasing temperatures, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, is worsening extreme weather events in Australia,” Rice said.

“We need to continue to transition away from fossil fuels to clean, reliable and affordable renewable energy.”

And it doesn't take much to conclude the federal coalition has little interest in emissions-fuelled climate change, with the new prime minister dismissing it as a discussion point, instead commenting on energy solely in the context of prices and reliability.

The energy minister is following suit, with Angus Taylor maintaining Australia is on track to meet its Paris target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

He told mainstream media: “Emissions reductions are the least of our problems, with every prospect we will reach the 26 per cent reduction below 2005 levels ahead of schedule and without interventions.”

He is of course incorrect, as many keep pointing out, as the reductions target relates to the entire economy, not just the energy sector.

And the figure of 27-ish per cent may not even be reached in the energy sector, with the COAG Energy Council itself declaring the target unlikely to he reached due to the absence of any policy designed to curb emissions or encourage investment in renewables in the post-RET landscape of 2020 and beyond.

The Energy Council wrote “Without a specific policy commitment to achieve emissions reductions in the NEM, it is expected that cumulative emissions over the decade will not reduce enough for the NEM to meet its share of the national target.”

No policies are in place to reduce emissions in the transport and agricultural sector either, and transport emissions are expected to increase to 112 million tonnes of carbon in 2030, up from 96 million in 2017.

Emissions from direct combustion – the burning of fossil fuels to heat homes and power industry – are forecast to decline by 2 per cent between now and 2030 however there are no national policies in place that would foster further decreases.

Research reveals that to meet emissions reduction target of 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions must not be above 437 Mt CO2-e, but all indications are they will stand at 570 Mt CO2-e which is just 5 per cent below 2005 levels – a far cry from the 26 to 28 per cent target – therefore Australia is barreling toward a big failure, missing the 2030 Paris Agreement targets by a mighty 21 percentage points.

A recently released new annual global development index ranks Australia in the  bottom three for environmental policy among wealthy nations, given it is one of the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world. On environmental indicators, Australia came in at 25th, pipping only South Korea and Japan, and one step behind the US.

The index that analyses seven aspects (including foreign aid) of 27 developed nations reported Australia would fail to lift its overall middle ranking of 14th without addressing environmental issues, particularly climate change, and by boosting foreign aid.

"Environment is one of Australia’s weaker policy fields on the CDI. Its low rank is largely due to its poor performance curbing climate change," the 2018 report stated, in reference to high fossil fuel production and per capita emissions.

If Australia wants to become a development leader it needs to increase the quantity of foreign aid, tackle environmental issues and focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.