Imagine the reception you would get if, having failed an exam, you went and saw your uni lecturer and said “Remember how I got a credit last year? Well, I want to use those extra marks to convert this failure into a pass.”
Or if you went to your boss, having had dismal sales figures for the year, and said you still deserve your bonus because you had above-average sales last year.
Yet this is exactly what our government is doing regarding emissions reduction by using carryover credits from previous periods.
Russia and the Ukraine also plan to use carryover credits towards meeting their Paris targets but New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and France have ruled it out (though Britain is now reconsidering it after they leave the EU who have legislation prohibiting it).
According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, Australia’s emissions for the year to December 2018 were actually 0.4 per cent above emissions in 2000, despite having committed to a reduction of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.
The purpose of the Paris agreement was for countries to ramp up action towards more ambitious reduction targets. Using our carryover credits would reduce the government’s effective 2030 emissions reduction target from 26 per cent (based on the higher 2005 level) to about 16 per cent, according to the Investor Group on Climate Change.
Many in the Coalition argue that Australia’s emissions are comparatively negligible in a global sense so doing anything won’t make a difference. But as pointed out in the AFR, “Australia’s 370 MT of carryover credits wouldn’t break the Paris Agreement, but the 13 billion tonnes of carryover credits sloshing around the world certainly would.”
What’s more, the reductions the government is claiming from its Emissions Reduction Fund should be taken “with a hefty grain of salt” according to research by Melbourne Law School among others.
To be eligible for ERF funding, projects must satisfy three tests:
- Newness: is a project new? Has work on it already begun? If it has, the project is ineligible, because it is considered already commercially viable.
- Existing regulations: is a particular project or emissions abatement already required by law? If so, the project is ineligible for ERF funding.
- Other government funding: does a project have access to other sources of government funding? If it does, the proponent should use those funds instead.
These tests have been largely ignored with the government handing out funding to projects that were going ahead anyway.
Tim Baxter quotes the case of LMS Energy’s Rochedale landfill gas project.
“First, it predates the ERF by a full decade. Second, the capture and disposal of methane from landfill sites is required by Queensland’s air pollution laws. Finally, it receives renewable energy certificates under the Commonwealth Renewable Energy Target. Nevertheless, this project is funded by the ERF.”
Also, 22 ERF projects have been terminated over the last four years for failing to deliver promised carbon abatement.
“The biggest default contract was the Pilbara Carbon Group which had promised to deliver 4 million tonnes of carbon abatement planting trees in the Port Hedland area. Another West Australian project, the Goldfields Carbon Group – which promised to grow native tree species on former agricultural land to deliver about 4 million tonnes of carbon abatement – was the second-largest project to lapse or be terminated.”
Who is going to use water trying to grow trees in the middle of a crippling drought?
By far, our greatest claimed emissions reductions have come from the land-use sector but these figures, by the department’s own admission, are very difficult to verify and have a large degree of uncertainty. Land-clearing seems to be happening at a faster rate than reforestation yet we claim great reductions in this area every year, mainly by saying we didn’t clear land that we might have. How that amounts to reducing emissions is beyond me.
Whilst the government repeats slogans like “in a canter” and the Murdoch press continues its misinformation campaign, the rest of the world regards us as pusillanimous liars and cheats, more interested in keeping our advantage than in helping with the heavy lifting.
Much to my shame, they are right.
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