PM can’t see the emissions truth for the trees
Other world leaders have treated this week’s report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a “wake-up call,” whereas our leader, Scott Morrison, has mumbled something about how we’re on track to “meet and beat” our emissions reduction target, and gone back to sleep.
The report finds that whereas the world’s increase in average temperatures since the start of the industrial era is 1.1 degrees, our average land temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees over the past century – which does much to confirm the impression most of us have that droughts, floods, bushfires, heatwaves and cyclones are now bigger and more frequent than they used to be.
Climate change isn’t coming, it’s arrived.
Scott Morrison asleep at the climate change wheel.Credit:Matt Davidson
At the UN climate change meeting in Paris in 2015, countries agreed to each reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently to limit the rise in average temperatures to 2 degrees, and preferably no more than 1.5.
The report’s wake-up call was its revised prediction that warming of 1.5 degrees could be reached by the early 2030s, much sooner than formerly expected. So we’ve got even less time than we thought.
At the Paris meeting, each country announced its “nationally determined contribution” to the reduction in global emissions. It was agreed that each country would review and increase its contribution every five years.
The first round of increases will be announced at the next “conference of the parties” in Glasgow in November. In preparation for the conference, almost all of the world’s 20 biggest emitters – including the G7 countries, China and us – have committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
But 2050 is a long way off – perhaps too far off. What matters more is the increases countries make in their contribution targets in Glasgow. At their summit meeting in Cornwall in June, the G7 members agreed to increase their reduction targets to between 40 and 63 per cent over the same period.
It’s possible Morrison will decide to accept the net zero emissions target by 2050, and possible he’ll go to Glasgow promising an improvement on our original Paris contribution of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 emission levels by 2030.
This week, however, he was promising nothing. Why not? Because we’re already set to “meet and beat” our original target. Indeed, the most recent figures show our emissions are already down 20 per cent on 2005, he said.
And, as he’s told us many times, we’re world-beaters when it comes to moving to renewable, wind and solar energy.
Now, you’ve probably heard there’s something sus about these wonderful don’t-you-worry-about-that figures Morrison and his ministers keep tossing around. The people who know and care about climate change say our emissions are getting worse, not better.
The doubters are right. But we’re indebted to the Australia Institute think tank for producing a careful report spelling out how the government’s figures are able to be so misleading. The Australian National University’s noted emissions analyst, Hugh Saddler, tests Morrison’s claims that, when it comes to reducing fossil fuels use and transitioning to renewable energy sources, we’re at the front of the pack.
Saddler compares our performance with 22 other decent-sized members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, plus Russia, on a number of key indicators of energy transition.
Examining our performance relative to the others between 2005 and 2019, Saddler found that we started at the back of the pack in 2005, and either maintained that position or had slipped even further by 2019 on all the indicators.
Australia remains among the highest emitters on a per-person basis, and on the basis of emissions per dollar of gross domestic product. On those indicators where our performance has improved over the period, the others have improved just as much as we have, if not more.
The “emissions intensity” of our energy system – that is, emissions per unit of energy consumed – is the highest, except for Poland. Why? Because both countries were, and still are, heavily reliant on coal for generating electricity.
Despite all Morrison’s boasting about how much we’re spending on wind and solar power, the others are also spending more. Our share of electricity generated from renewables has slipped back relative to the others.
But here’s the killer punch: we were one of only three countries out of the 24 whose emissions from energy use actually increased between 2005 and 2019. By 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, according to Saddler.
How can this possibly be reconciled with Morrison’s claim that our emissions have fallen by 20 per cent? It’s simple when you know. Saddler is talking about emissions from energy use, whereas Morrison is also including emissions from what the UN calls LULUCF – land use, land use change and forestry. In short, land clearing and logging.
This source of emissions has been included in the official calculations since Australia insisted on it at the Kyoto conference in 1997. And be clear on this: so it should be. I have no patience with greenies who think taking account of what’s happening to “carbon sinks” is somehow immoral. Tell that to the people who worry about the deforestation of the Amazon.
No, the point is not that land clearing should be ignored, but that we wanted it counted solely because we knew it would make our figures look a lot better than they really were. Why in 2015 did we want to set 2005 as the starting point for our promised cut in emissions? Because we already knew the cessation of land clearing in Queensland would make our performance look good even if we didn’t do anything much to reduce our use of coal and gas.
Trouble is, this long-passed, once-only improvement in land use does nothing to transform our energy use away from fossil fuels and towards total reliance on renewables. It thus does nothing to get us to net zero emissions.
Ross Gittins is the economics editor.
Most Viewed in Business
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article