- Australia’s energy emissions continue to increase, though more slowly
Australia’s annual energy combustion emissions reached what is almost certainly a record level in July 2017, and then fell slightly in August and September.
- Petroleum consumption continues to be is the main driver of emission increases
Large increases in consumption of petroleum fuels, particularly diesel, continue to more than offset gradually falling electricity generation emissions and near constant emissions from gas consumption.
- Very large reductions in emissions from petroleum and natural gas consumption will be required to meet the Paris Agreement target
Because emissions from petroleum fuels and, to a lesser extent, natural gas have increased so much since 2005, a pro rata reduction from these sources by 2030 will require very much larger relative reductions from present levels.
- Growth in emissions from road transport fuels is growing at twice the rate of GDP
Consumption and emissions from use of road transport fuels (petrol, retail diesel and auto LPG) has grown at twice the rate of GDP over the past two years, meaning that the energy productivity of rod transport has deteriorated by 5%.
- By contrast, the energy productivity of domestic aviation has increased strongly
While domestic consumption of jet fuel has remained constant, aviation activity has increased, so that energy productivity has increased by 3% over the past two years.
Total energy combustion emissions to June 2017
The September 2017 NEEA Report recorded a sudden upsurge in consumption of petroleum fuels, and consequent upsurge in emissions, starting from around April 2017. This Report records that emissions from consumption of petroleum fuels continued to grow strongly up to the end of September (Figure 1).
A decline in emissions from electricity generation is largely offsetting the growth in petroleum emissions, with the result that total energy combustion emissions are growing, but only slowly. Emissions from other use of natural gas in eastern Australia, i.e. excluding electricity generation, have stabilised, after a period of growth largely caused by growing gas consumption at the three LNG plants in Gladstone, all now operating at steady state capacity.
When emissions from the three different fossil fuels used to generate electricity – black coal, brown coal and gas – are separated, Figure 2 shows that it is reduced brown coal emissions which are entirely responsible for the reduction in electricity generation emissions.
Lower emissions from brown coal are the consequence of the closure of Hazelwood power station, at the end of March this year. Once that effect is fully included in the annualised data, which will occur at the end of March next year, brown coal emissions are likely to stay constant, at a new, lower level.
Electricity emissions will only start to fall again when the new wind and solar projects now being built start to come on line. Even then, will any emissions reduction from electricity be enough to stop growing petroleum emissions?
What will happen to electricity generation emissions, and therefore to energy combustion emissions as a whole, after next March? If petroleum emissions are still increasing, what will stop total energy emissions also increasing?
Perhaps the answers to these questions will emerge from the review of Australia’s climate change policies. This review is being undertaken by the Department of Environment and Energy, which says on its website that the review “will conclude by the end of 2017”. In the meanwhile, it is illuminating to examine the implications of current trends.
In 2005, as recorded in the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI), electricity generation in the NEM states (which includes a small quantity of generation outside the NEM) emitted 177.8 Mt CO2-e. By 2015 this had fallen by 14.7 Mt CO2-e, to 163.1 Mt CO2-e, a reduction of 8.3%. Since 2015 it has fallen another 5.0 Mt CO2-e, and so is now 11.1 % below the 2005 level.
To achieve a reduction of 28% by 2030 would require a further reduction of 30 Mt CO2-e. To put it another way, the pro rata emissions reduction task for the NEM is already 40% achieved. But will a pro rata reduction from electricity generation enable Australia to meet its Paris Agreement commitment?
As discussed in the June 2017 NEEA Report, Australia is very fortunate in that dramatic reductions since 2015 in emissions from land use change and forestry have (or at least, in 2015, had) contributed about 70 Mt CO2-e of the nearly 170 Mt CO2-e reduction needed for an overall 28% reduction. A pro rata reduction in electricity emissions would add another 50 Mt CO2-e.
But where is the other 50 Mt CO2-e to come from (assuming no rebound in land clearing emissions)? A reduction of 50 Mt CO2-e from all sectors other than electricity generation and land use change is equivalent to about 15% relative to 2005 levels. But by 2015 emissions from these sectors had increased significantly, so that the required reduction, relative to 2015 levels, had become 20%. The recent dramatic increases in petroleum consumption will have again increased the required reductions, as the time available has shrunk from fifteen years to not much more than twelve.
Most of these emissions come from transport, mining activities, manufacturing processes requiring high temperature heat, agricultural livestock and fugitive emissions associated with coal mining and gas production. In most of these sectors emissions are currently increasing, not decreasing.
In none are there new, but technically mature, low emission options for achieving dramatic emission reductions at reasonable cost. Such options are of course available for electricity generation. The new technologies are continuing to demonstrate technical improvement, they are being widely deployed and their costs are comparable to, if not lower than the higher emitting technologies they can and are replacing.
Only the wilfully ignorant or blind could pretend that Australia will be able to achieve its emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement with no more than a pro rata reduction in emissions from electricity generation.
Finally, note that, despite the steady fall in electricity generation emissions, driven, until next March by the effect of the Hazelwood closure, as well as the steadily growing share of renewable generation, the falling electricity emissions are only just keeping pace with the rising emissions from petroleum. If these trends continue, there will be no further fall in Australia’s emissions at all.