Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions - facts, fictions and do they have cost impacts for consumers?

It’s likely a fine line between fact, knowledgeable interpretation and opinion.

There are several great ongoing Choice Community discussions including Renewable Energy and Alternate Vehicle Fuels.

There are a number of recent contrary public opinions on how Australia is performing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is further opinion concerning the electricity generating sector and the potential for policy decisions to drive consumer retail prices up or down.

As a matter of fact the same data sources are generally relied upon by both sides of any argument!

From page 11 of the projections report:

"Emissions to 2030
Total emissions in 2030 are projected to be 570 Mt CO2-e, which is 5 per cent below 2005 levels (597 Mt CO2-e). This is a reduction of 22 Mt CO2-e from the estimate of 2030 total emissions published in the 2016 projections of 592 Mt CO2-e.

Without taking account of the measures discussed above, emissions in 2030 are projected to grow by 3.5 per cent above 2020 levels. Most of the projected growth in emissions is in the transport sector, led by increased heavy vehicles activity for freight, and the agriculture sector, driven by increased stocking numbers.

Emissions in other sectors are projected to stabilise or grow slowly after 2020 (Figure 3). Electricity emissions
are expected to be flat as demand growth is offset by the effect of policies and initiatives under the NEPP. Long-term emissions from industrial processes and product use are expected to be lower following the legislated phase-down of HFCs from 2018."

The Annual Inventory reports also provide a very detailed analysis of the data.
In reading any of the reports or looking at the data there are some simple observations that may or may not be useful:

  1. Other than the period from 2008 to 2013 (Rudd/Gillard PMs) the overall trend in Australia’s Greenhouse gas emissions has been increasing.
  2. The most significant improvement in Australia’s emissions has been in LULUCF. That is more simply a measure of land clearing vs forest growth. There are some tables and graphs in the reports that do exclude LULUCF for obvious reasons if anyone is interested in the underlying trends.
  3. The emissions in the Electricity (34%), Stationary Energy(18%) and Transport(19%) sectors are all significant. The reports do not include a detailed analysis of what portion of each is attributable to the average consumer. Politely I do take afront when these numbers are used unqualified. Without misleading anyone further it would be helpful to understand exactly how much of each of these emissions the average consumer directly contributes.

The quarterly report released on Friday 28th Sept is relatively brief and incomplete. It may be best read after reading one of the full annual reports to ensure the context of the quarterly report is clearer.


Nothing to see here? Only if you don’t look.
Extract of part of the article, a response to the Minister’s and Govt’s current position by Prof Hugh Saddler of the ANU. You might also find similar sentiment in the Government’s own climate reports. Note the climate reports do not reconcile expenditure on improvement programs or costs to climate outcomes. Saddler does offer one informed view of some of the current Govt’s initiatives.

But according to Hugh Saddler, a climate change and energy expert and associate professor at the Australian National University, even if the government were willing to spend that extra $9 billion – which it has given no indication it is – it likely would not have the desired effect.

He called the ERF a “stupid policy”, and dismissed Ms Price’s claim ramping it up would result in Australia’s Paris targets being met.

“It’s nonsense, because the ERF is doing nothing at the moment and it’s a very expensive way of achieving emissions reductions if it did work.

“The [191 million tonnes] is spread out over many, many years into the future. Now, the projects are meant to be up and going already, you should see some effect of them now because a number were contracted two or three years ago.

“But the sectors where most of the contracts have gone, the emissions are actually going up.”

Professor Saddler said if the government was serious, it would do a number of things: Promote rather than obstruct investment in renewable electricity generation; Promote a transition to electric vehicles (he pointed out that one of the highest-emitting sectors was diesel fumes from trucks); and Encourage a shift away from domestic use of gas and towards electricity.

As for the other four methods, Professor Saddler said three – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA, and Snowy Hydro 2 – were not emissions-reduction policies at all, while reforestation was a very slow method of reducing emissions.

He also pointed out that land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales neutralised tree planting.