The lies and manipulations used for Australia’s new 2030 emissions projection

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The Australian government keeps saying that its own projections show a 35 per cent drop in emissions by 2030 (relative to 2005).

It’s a lie. And I will quickly explain how it’s crafted, because it’s really important. If the projections really do predict a 35 per cent drop, it’ll be the largest change in 2030 emissions forecasts.

First, a little bit of context. Instead of updating its 2030 targets (which at just 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels, including land use change, are notoriously weak and awful and outdated), Australia is bringing only “updated projections” to COP26, and hoping, desperately, that no one will spot the difference.

The Australian Financial Review‘s Phillip Coorey was told by energy and emissions reductions minister Angus Taylor, or one of his staffers, that the projections would show a 35 per cent drop by 2030.  That’s quite a departure from the 22 per cent cited in last year’s projections.

And the 2021 projections finally came out late on Wednesday. Guess what! The new baseline projections suggest 2030 emissions in Australia will be 439.35 megatonnes of CO2-e. That’s 29.6 per cent below 2005 levels. Where the hell is the extra 5.5 per cent reduction coming from?

So, here’s some context from last year’s report. In 2020, the government published baseline projections (just below Paris). They also included a bunch of “sensitivities” – where they tweak variables depending on a range of **external**, uncontrolled, non-policy factors.

In 2020, one of those variable-tweak experiments, the “high tech” one, was presented – falsely – by the government as if it reflected their “tech roadmap” policy, even though that ‘sensitivity’ was the same as the 2019 report, before the roadmap even existed!!!

Can you guess what Australia’s government did in 2021? They deleted every single other sensitivity analysis from their file, hit the accelerator on the ‘high tech’ sensitivity, and then presented the tweaked-variable alternative as if it’s **the baseline** forecast.

You can really see the difference in this, where I compare the percentage change between the baseline and the ‘high tech’ scenarios, from each year’s report. In 2021’s report, the tweaked assumptions result in emissions around 12 per cent lower than baseline.

So, the government is using a fundamental and incredibly devious empirical trick here. They’re *intentionally* twisting the underlying assumptions of their projections to get a better outcome. There really isn’t much more to that. It’s dishonest.

They have then hurled that tweaked figure at a range of journalists who they might have guessed wouldn’t ask too many questions or interrogate the assumptions behind the figure.

But let’s ignore the dodgy, tweaked-assumptions version of the projection, and go with the ‘baseline’. It’s about a 30% reduction, which is notably still better than last year’s predicted 22% reduction. (But still wildly off from any real, good target).

So … why is it better?

Well, let’s compare the 2020 projections to the 2021 projections. This shows change between the 2 versions by year and sector. Amazingly: for the first 4 years, it projects *worse* emissions than last year’s report, and post 2025, *huge* drops in electricity (including land use change).

So, what is going on in their assumptions about what Australia’s electricity sector will do over the next decade? The emissions in that sector have been revised downwards quite significantly every single year!

For the past four years, the Australian government has included the projected electrical output of power generators in Australia, by fuel type. That means we’ve been able to see how those projections change each year!

That has revealed an extremely important narrative. These projections keep falling **mostly** because, underlying the reports, the predicted output of coal and gas keeps dropping each year. And wind and solar keep climbing!

(The exception was from 2019 to 2020, when wind got cut and gas got expanded. Angus Taylor’s sworn nemesis and his most beloved fossil fuel, respectively).

But from 2020 to 2021, there was really obviously no longer any room for Taylor’s personal indulgences about tech he specifically loves or loathes. Such a deep cut to electricity emissions **surely** meant a huge cut to both coal and gas, and more solar and wind.

We’ll never really know. This year, they just ***deleted*** their electricity generation projections from the underlying data. So we can’t say exactly how many coal and gas plants they had to shut down to get their 30% by 2030!

There are a bunch of other tables we can use to make some guesses. They provide percentage of carbon cuts by total electricity sector and state. NSW and Victoria both see *huge* revisions (both have new policies). In 2019’s report, NSW was predicted to achieve a 40% cut. Now, it’s 84% by 2030.

Another rough proxy is installed capacity, also provided in the report but not in the data tables (doesn’t tell us generation, but does give us some clues). A total of 4GW of coal has been cut out, by 2030. The 2019 report saw 60GW of variable renewable energy (wind and solar) in 2030.The  2021 report says 82GW.

With some more time I can back-calculate generation, using emissions, these capacities and renewable proportions, and some educated guesses. I bet it would show exactly why the government removed the data: coal and gas are on the way out much faster than they want widely known.

The report also includes an updated projected percentage of EVs in the total vehicle fleet in Australia. This incorporates the government’s “future fuels strategy”, which was released last year. As expected: it essentially does almost nothing to EV uptake.

So. Extrapolating out this projection, if Australia continues at the same pace, it’ll reach ‘net zero’ emissions by the year ~2093 ish.

Anyway. I haven’t even opened their “net zero by 2050” plan yet. But their projections and plans out to 2030 are mind-blowingly bad. And that’s what counts. Enough for now.

(Note: This story was adapted and lightly edited from a Twitter thread posted by @ketanjo.)


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