Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are posed to surge to a record high after 2020, and may not reach a peak before 2030 – despite the government’s claim it has been reducing emissions and its support for the Paris climate deal.
A new analysis from industry analyst Reputex – a division of global ratings agency Standard & Poor’s – confirms what we already know: despite the Coalition’s rhetoric, emissions in Australia actually rose 1.3 per cent in 2014/15, for the first time since the Coalition was last in power a decade earlier.
But the Reputex survey also notes that Australia’s emissions growth is now among the highest in the world, with the government’s own forecast showing emissions will grow 6 per cent to 2020, despite its ‘Direct Action’ plan and the billions spent in the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Ironically, the emissions growth would have been faster, but for the fact that Australia’s economic growth has been downgraded sharply from the optimistic assumptions of successive Labor and Coalition governments.
‘There is a substantial disconnect between our national abatement task and the emissions reality,’ said Hugh Grossman, executive director of RepuTex.
The situation is made worse by the revelation that the Coalition government is not providing any more funds to Direct Action, meaning that the country will fall into a ‘policy void’ once the latest auctions are completed this year.
Grossman said that from the end of this year, there would be no mechanism to purchase emissions reductions, or hold companies accountable for emissions growth. ‘This will leave the Australian market with no policy to curb emissions growth,’ he said.
Indeed, Grossman said it was difficult for the public to see what, if anything, had changed since Malcolm Turnbull took over as leader of the Coalition and as prime minister from Tony Abbott in early September.
The report was seized upon by the Labor Party, who pointed to repeated claims by Turnbull and his environment minister Greg Hunt that Australia was in fact reducing its emissions.
That is clearly not the case. Yet Australia declared its support for the Paris climate agreement reached in mid-December, which aims to contain global temperature rises to ‘well below 2°C’, and possible 1.5°C. This will require significant cuts in emissions in coming decades, and a limited carbon budget.
Another major new report released on Monday slammed Australia for lacking any high-level policy vision in its approach to climate change.
The study from the Grantham Institute in the UK looks at all countries’ pledges at the Paris climate summit and the ‘credibility’ of the respective governments in actually delivering on those pledges.
Australia, despite having public support, excellent institutions, and good public process, rates poorly because of its policy switches and lack of robust legislation.
This graph to the right illustrates how. Australia gets a zero because of its policy back-flips – the result of partisan politics – and a poor 1.5 on current policies.
Notably, the Grantham report says Australia was ‘not supportive’ of a high level vision for climate policies. Only Australia and Canada performed at the bottom rung because of their policy flip-flops – the result of intervention by their respective climate-skeptic leaders, Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper respectively.
This graph below shows just how low Australia rates in terms of credibility for climate policy and legislation.
The Coalition government, however, is still arguing that coal is good for humanity and essential to relive energy poverty.
Just weeks after the conclusion of the Paris climate deal, the official data was quietly released by the Coalition through the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI), over the Christmas holidays.
They show an increase in emissions for four straight quarters, driven by a 33 per cent jump in emissions from land clearing, and an increase in brown-coal generation, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production.
The brown coal generation is directly attributable, say other industry analysts such as Pitt & Sherry and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, to the repeal of the carbon price, and the halt to construction in large-scale renewables caused by Coalition policies.
Reputex says the increase in fiscal year emissions in the past year is the first since 2005-06, when Australian emissions reached their historic peak.
Australia is now one of five developed economies expected to grow its emissions to 2020, behind only Finland, Sweden and Estonia.
Meanwhile, the US is forecast to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 under ‘current policy’ settings, while the European Union (18 per cent), Russia (31 per cent) and the United Kingdom (37 per cent) have all begun to reduce their emissions.
Australia also has a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020, but will have to use an accounting credit – the surplus from its Kyoto Protocol commitment, where it was allowed to increase emissions significantly – to meet that target.
‘Meeting Australia’s abatement task is largely just a victory in accounting terms,’ Grossman said. ‘We have met our target, but we used a credit to get there, so it’s not a sign of any progress to reduce emissions.’
Grossman says Australia’s current policies are likely to result in emissions growing to historic levels, and beyond, with no peak expected prior to 2030.
‘As major new LNG and Coal Mining facilities begin to ramp up, even under lower commodity prices, we will see their demand for electricity grow, which will increase emissions from coal-fired power generation.
‘We project this pathway will continue to grow under current policy, with no peak in emissions within sight for the Australian market prior to 2030’ he said.
The Coalition government has announced a review of its Direct Action Plan policy in June 2017, reporting by November 2017. However any new policy is unlikely to take effect until 2018-19, in around three years’ time, and there is no change in rhetoric, or policy, in the lead up to the election expected this year.
Grossman said Australia’s growing emissions may become a liability for the government as it enters an election year and faces increased international scrutiny, putting pressure on the government to explain its policy, and how it can reach its Paris pledge of a 26-28 per cent cut in emissions by 2030.
‘While the government won’t jump the gun on its 2017 policy review, without a new statement of intent it will be hard for the electorate to distinguish between the new PM’s ambition and the Abbott-era of climate policy,’ Grossman said.