Australia’s greenhouse gas status has worsened again, showing a 0.6 per cent rise in the March quarter to a seven year high of 538.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but the minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor still thinks it’s a good news story.
Taylor, not one to be bogged down by data, insisted in a statement on Friday, and later in front of media, that the rise in emissions would indeed be a fall, were it not for Australia doing such a fantastic job extracting and exporting its natural gas.
“This increase is more than accounted for by a 4.7 Mt CO2-e increase in LNG production related emissions, as LNG exports increased 18.8 per cent,” the statement says. “Absent the increase in LNG exports, emissions would have declined 0.3 per cent or 1.6 Mt CO2-e.”
The only sectors recording a fall were electricity, down 2.1 per cent thanks mostly to an increase in renewables, and particularly solar, and a decline in coal and gas generation in Australia, and agriculture, down 4.8 per cent due to a fall in the livestock population, due in turn to the ongoing drought.
But Taylor wanted to focus on LNG, and in the latest quarter the accounts include “a special topic on natural gas” as part of the quarterly emissions inventory, “covering the role gas plays in the transition to cleaner, more efficient energy systems.”
Taylor also says that the report shows “emissions per capita and the emissions intensity of the economy continue to fall and are at their lowest levels in nearly three decades.”
“In the year to March 2019, emissions per capita have fallen 40.1 per cent since 1990, while the emissions intensity of the economy has fallen 62.4 p r cent.”
And he offers the below chart for illustration or what the data looks like if we ignore emissions intensive LNG production.
As these things go, however, not everyone agrees with the minister’s take on things, and are going ahead and offering their own thoughts – and pictures – on what the data actually says, and means.
Let’s start with the below chart, from The Australia Institute.
Climate and energy program director at the TAI, Richie Merzian, says Australia’s new seven-year high in national emissions – fuelled by the major increase in pollution and exports from the LNG industry – can in no way be seen as any sort of positive, either for Australia, or for the global fight against climate change.
“According to the International Energy Agency, LNG is not a major transition fuel (away from coal) and is directly fuelling the climate crisis,” Merzian told RenewEconomy on Friday.
“The WA government’s new policy on emissions from major projects this week provides gas giants with a carte blanche to pollute and I expect emission related to gas will continue to climb.
“Australia has a podium place as the third largest exporter of carbon pollution from fossil fuels and this needs to change if the government is serious about climate action at home and abroad.”
On Taylor’s claims about “per capita emissions” and “emissions intensity,” Merzian notes that neither of those metrics mean anything in the context of the Paris Agreement Australia signed up to.
“Paris Agreement targets for industrialised countries are not set at per capita or emissions intensity rates but in absolute emissions, and Australia’s absolute emissions are out of control,” he told RE.
“Australia’s population is growing and its economy diversifying into services, so it’s no wonder metrics like per capita emission and emissions intensity improve. Total domestic emissions continue to rise and there is no credible climate policy to curb them anytime soon.”
The falls in electricity emissions since 2016 have been totally displaced by rises in transport and stationary energy emmissions.
It’s almost like it is a whole of economy issue… pic.twitter.com/ROPph2JEoh
— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) August 30, 2019
Mark Butler, Taylor’s counterpart in the federal Labor opposition, is also having trouble drinking from Taylor’s glass half full.
“Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor and the Coalition can’t hide from the data – carbon emissions continue to rise under this government,” he said in an emailed statement.
Butler notes that Australia’s emissions have been rising continuously since 2014 after coming down by more than 10 per cent under the last Labor government.
“The government’s own projections show the Liberals will miss the 2020 Kyoto commitment of a 5 per cent cut on 2000 levels,” he adds. “(They) also show emissions will keep rising all the way to 2030 – missing their already inadequate 2030 target by a huge margin.
“It’s no surprise given this government’s only plan is to waste an additional $2 billion, on top of the $2.55 billion already allocated, on Tony Abbott’s failed climate policy.
“Australians have come to expect this from a government that is not serious about taking real action on climate change.”
Elsewhere, Eytan Lenko, from Beyond Zero Emissions, takes issue with the whole “gas is great” message.
“We are going backwards fast on emissions in Australia mainly due to gas extraction and processing,” Lenko said on Twitter on Friday. “We are going to have to face the fact that putting methane directly into our atmosphere is a terrible idea during a climate emergency. Assets will be stranded.”