The most recent quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory states that emissions per capita, and the emissions intensity of the economy (emissions/$ of GDP), were at their lowest levels in 28 years in the year to December 2017, a fact loudly repeated by Josh Frydenberg in the hope that we won’t notice that emissions rose again last year as they have done ever since the Coalition took over.
The reality is that this has far more to do with large increases in population and GDP than any reduction strategies and are fairly pointless measurements. The atmosphere doesn’t care how many of us there are or what our GDP is.
Emissions increased 1.5 per cent in 2017, with the main cause being the expansion in LNG exports which saw a 41.4% increase in LNG production in 2017 and a forecast increase in LNG production for 2018 of a further 18.1%.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the price, domestic gas sales decreased by 9.7% in 2017. We don’t have a gas supply problem, we have a regulation problem.
Bucking the trend in all other sectors, annual emissions from electricity decreased by 3.1%, reflecting weakening demand (0.5%) in the National Electricity Market (NEM) and a reduction in brown coal generation.
Over the last ten years, coal generation has decreased from 85% of total generation to 75%. Conversely, gas has increased from 9% to 11% and renewable generation (predominantly wind and hydro) has increased from 7% to 14% of total generation.
Much has been made of Tony Abbott’s promise to add one million jobs in five years, but no-one seems to remember that he also promised to add one million additional solar energy roofs by 2020. That promise never even made it to the starting line.
With the reducing price of solar panels and improvements in battery storage, we are well-placed to benefit from the abundance of sunshine in this country. There have also been thousands of potential sites identified for small scale pumped hydro to act as storage.
Our government committed to the woefully inadequate target of, by 2020, a 5 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2000. According to the report, our emissions last year were 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000. Any claim that we have met, or will meet, our target relies on accounting skulduggery. The facts are clear – in 2000 we emitted 547.0 Mt CO2 -e, in 2017 emissions were 533.7 Mt CO2 -e.
Many countries used 1990 as the year they based their 2020 emission reduction targets on, for example Norway who committed to a 30% reduction and the EU, 20%, on 1990 emissions.
In Australia, from 1990 to 2017, emissions from electricity increased 42.4% and stationary energy excluding electricity grew 47.3%. Emissions from transport grew 62.9%, fugitive emissions increased by 48.8%, and industrial processes and product use increased 37.4%.
The only reason we have seen a 7.5% reduction in emissions since 1990 is because Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) decreased by 114.5%.
Which is amazing considering, in Queensland alone, woody vegetation loss was around 395,000 hectares in 2015-16. More than 1 million hectares of native bush and forest has been cleared in Queensland over the last four years. Thankfully, the Paluscez government has recently reintroduced the land-clearing legislation that Newman so foolishly abolished.
The report also stated that the past six years have seen a strong increase in diesel consumption of 26.9%. The transport sector has seen the highest growth in emissions since 1990 because growth in transport activity outpaced improvements in fuel efficiency. While per person ownership and use of light passenger vehicles has stabilised after decades of growth, freight and aviation activity continues to grow.
This represents an area where real improvements could be made by improving vehicle efficiency, moving to alternative fuels with potentially lower emissions, such as electricity, natural gas and sustainable biofuels, improving public transport, staggering freight deliveries and working hours to avoid congestion, decentralisation and small scale enterprises so freight doesn’t have to be transported as far, enabling people to work from home etc.
Action on climate change is an increasingly urgent priority yet this government chooses to ignore the myriad of ways in which we could be acting to try to avoid the inevitable catastrophe that will follow the out-of-control global warming their greed and irresponsible ideology is causing.
And I haven’t even mentioned a price on carbon which is the obvious first step. Removing it did not stop the inexorable rise in electricity prices.
A few short years ago we were leaders in this field. Thanks to the Coalition, we have gone a long way backwards, making future action much more expensive and even more urgent.