Rising emissions

An upward trend in diesel combustion emissions is wiping out cuts to emissions made in the electricity sector, according to The Australia Institute in the latest Emissions Audit. And the outlook is not promising, with emissions from consumption of petroleum fuels likely to continue to increase.

That in turn puts pressure on pro rate emissions reduction from energy combustion as a whole, compared to reductions in the electricity sector.

Meeting the Paris emissions target will need much larger than pro rata (or 26 per cent) reductions in electricity generation emissions.

“Focusing purely on reducing electricity emissions while failing to recognise the importance of transport emissions is taking two steps forward, one step back,” says energy analyst and report author Dr Hugh Saddler.

“In the 1990s diesel vehicles were viewed as better for the environment but technologies have evolved and many markets, particularly in Europe, are now moving away from diesel to cleaner alternatives through electric vehicle strategies and tightening fuel efficiency standards.

“The average diesel vehicle owner travels further than a petrol vehicle owner, and many of diesel engines have gotten larger, easily undoing the benefit of diesel as a lower CO2 polluting fuel than petrol.

“While governments have taken an active role to improve the fuel efficiency of heavy road freight vehicles, they have done very little to improve the efficiency of light vehicles, like the work ute or family car, with the issue placed in the purgatory of a Ministerial Forum for the last five years.”

The report detailed the increase in diesel combustion emissions which primarily arise from road transport and mining from 2011 to 2019 at 21.7 Mt CO2, almost completely erodes the decrease in emissions from electricity generation in the NEM over the same period, at 22.1 Mt CO2.

New and improved data reveals that almost all the growth in diesel consumption is coming from increased retail sales of diesel, that is diesel consumption by passenger and commercial vehicles, rather than mining, agriculture or public transport.

Over the decade, the share of diesel light commercial vehicles such as utes has doubled and diesel passenger vehicles has tripled, specifically registered light commercial vehicles using diesel fuel increased from 34 per cent in 2008 to 66 per cent in 2018 and diesel fuelled passenger vehicles increased from 4.3 per cent to 12.8 per cent over the same period.

Diesel vehicles tend to be driven for longer distances than petrol vehicles.

In other findings, trends in transport energy efficiency show big gains for heavy freight.

Australia’s energy emissions were almost unchanged between March and June 2019, according to the Emissions Audit which tracks Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels every quarter.

Fossil fuel combustion accounts for the majority of Australia’s emissions – 72 per cent in the most recent National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.