National emissions inventory scam(s)

There were three scams in the Government’s release of the latest quarterly update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory for March 2018.

The first, as reported by the ABC, FOI documents obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation show that the Government sat on the report for seven weeks, then released it on 28 September, just before national football finals in the AFL and NRL, and amidst media preoccupation with the royal commission into banks.

That means the report was available to government from 10 August, fully two weeks before Malcolm Turnbull was turfed out on 24 August. Hence while political decisions were being made about the National Energy Guarantee, important information was being withheld.

Secondly, now the data is out, this is what the government wants us to concentrate on:

This is the one they don’t want us to think about:

Emissions went up 1.3% on the previous year.

The first graph was the one and only shown in the media release. To get the full report you have to scroll down the Further Information and click on Progress of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory which gives links to all reports, including the Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: March 2018

However, the biggest scam is how the baseline was cherry-picked, setting up the ball-park for how we look at progress in emissions. Have a look at this graph from the 2015 inventory:

Many countries use a baseline from the early 1990’s. Emissions became a concern from the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, which saw the genesis of the UNFCCC and thence the Kyoto Protocol, plus the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings every December. This series of meetings eventually produced the Paris Agreement in 2015, having failed in what was supposed to be the first Kyoto-replacement agreement in Copenhagen 2009.

The United States cherry-picked 2005 as a more convenient baseline. It’s easy to see why we copied them.

Now we are spruiking that our emissions per capita have fallen 36 per cent since 1990, while the emissions intensity of the economy has fallen 59 per cent since 1990. Good on us!

Emissions are down 11.2% from 2005, but rising. The only way we’ll get them down by 26% by 2030 is by changing the rules of the game, which is where the political rhetoric is going. When push comes to shove the Coalition is likely to simply point to the per capita and emissions intensity data.

It is true that most advanced economies have populations that are static or falling. However, we will be judged by what we promised for Paris, which was thought to be on the light side at 26 to 28%. In July 2015 the Climate Change Authority had recommended 40 to 60% from 2000.

Telling the story our way

The 2015 graph comes from quarterly update report to June 2015, which I posted about here. It excludes Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), telling us that in 2014-15 emissions were 25.6% higher than in 1989-90. However, including LULUCF emissions were only 6.6% higher than in 1989-90.

In the huge 368-page report we sent to the UNFCCC about our Paris commitments, in Section 2.1 (52 on the pdf counter) we told the UN authorities that excluding the LULUCF sector emissions had increased by 27.0% (113.4 Mt CO2-e) above 1990 levels.

Then we included LULUCF which magically turned the score into a 9.3% decrease as shown in this graph:

Now in this report they say on page 8:

    Since 1990, Australia’s emissions have decreased by 7.0 per cent (40.1 Mt CO2-e), reaching 536.7 Mt CO2-e in the year to March 2018.

The big movers since 1990 are electricity, which increased by 51.9 Mt CO2-e, and LULUCF, where emissions have decreased by 114.9 per cent.

LULUCF now shows up as a negative on the sectoral pie chart:

That is, LULUCF still acts as a smallish net sink.

Since the last quarterly report electricity has dropped 1.0 per cent in the overall picture while fugitive emissions have gained 1.0 per cent. Here are the percentage changes:

So in real-world terms climate policy has essentially been about vegetation-clearing laws and practices in Queensland. I seem to recall that clearing was at a particularly high point in 1990, and that Australia received special dispensation to include this sector in their accounts. That’s the fourth scam in this story.

As the meeting that established the Kyoto Protocol pushed past midnight, weary delegates anxious to get some kip before catching scheduled flights in the morning were presented with a special request from our Senator Robert Hill, who was babbling something about the importance in Australia of including emissions from land-use change, forestry and tree-clearing. Tired delegates agreed. Hill’s timing was perfect. When they woke up later it was later known as the ‘Australia clause’, not in a good way. However, it has allowed us to look somewhat respectable about climate change mitigation ever since whether we actually do anything or not. Here are a few links:

Back on vegetation management, there was another turning point when the Beattie government introduced strong, arguably punitive and dictatorial, vegetation management laws in 2004, and again when the Newman government rescinded those laws in 2012, followed by more than a million hectares of clearing in the following three years (pay-walled).

This graph from a March 2017 article featuring the infamous lump of coal in parliament incident, shows the effect of an actual climate policy instituted by the Gillard government, when a price was put upon carbon:

Of course, that was famously dismantled by Tony Abbott.

Some highlights from the report

Greenies south of the Tweed may be surprised to see this on page 23:

    Regrowth of forest on lands previously cleared has increased since 2005 to such an extent, that over the last ten years, the amount of forest cover has increased on average by 40,000 hectares each year.

The report says that the increase of forests as a sink has slowed down in recent years, but notes that new laws were passed in Queensland in May 2018.

Fugitive emissions

Fugitive emissions increased by 12.9% over the year to March 2018, driven by an increase of 18.7% in natural gas production, which was partially offset by a 3.8% annual decrease in coal production. Here’s the graph for natural gas production:

The prognosis is:

    Domestic gas sales decreased 9.7 per cent in 2017 and partially offset LNG growth, but is forecast to grow 8.7 per cent in 2018.


Lest you think burning coal for power is going out of fashion, the answer is, not yet:

This graph only includes metered electricity, excluding rooftop solar, for example. Renewables also include hydro, so the large commitments to renewable energy generation in wind and solar are not yet evident in the record. It’s perhaps worth remembering that South Australia has about the same footprint in the NEM as does Tasmania, that is, small.

This graph should change substantially over the next five years. For example, the three biggest solar farms joined the grid in Victoria, NSW and South Australia in the past week.


Transport is now 19% of the whole emissions story, and has steadily increased over the years, and increased 2.1% over the last year. Here we have transport by fuel type:

Diesel stands out. Hydrogen may become the dominant fuel source for transport. In any case a 100% clean energy electricity sector could yield a 100% clean transport sector.

Stationary energy

Stationary energy excluding electricity is defined as:

    emissions from direct combustion of fuels predominantly from the manufacturing, mining, residential and commercial sectors. The mining sector includes petroleum, coal, crude oil, and gas.

Stationary energy represents 18% of the whole and increased by 4.6% in the last year. As such it merits more policy attention than it receives.


Overall Australia has been delinquent on climate policy, and appears to be quite relaxed about it. Prime Minister Morrison claims we will meet our Paris targets “in a canter”. The linked article at the top of the post refers to an official government projection of emissions out to 2030 published in December 2017, the latest available.

I searched and found Australia’s emissions trends, 1990 to 2030. Here are a few choice graphs. First, the actual emissions projections:

We are looking at a 4% increase from 2020 to 2030. Seems the LULUCF well has run dry.

This graph shows the change in projections from 2016 to 2017 and where we’d need to head if we took our pathetic goal seriously:

Here they show what they think will happen in electricity:

Coal looks well-preserved.

The biggest scam of all is that they know what they are doing, or more particularly what they are not doing, while they tell all will be well.

21 thoughts on “National emissions inventory scam(s)”

  1. That reforestation sink is real, as C enters trees and understory. But to think it could be a sink, year after year, is a real – how may I put this – Lulu!!!

    To be a continuing sink, either the forests would need to begin spreading into semi-desert and desert regions, or the trees in existing forests would need to put on growth spurts and get taller and taller year by year.

    The former is a dream, the latter is the Jack and the Beanstalk Theory.

    The other possible sink is to find a way of increasing soil carbon, which might assist agriculture; but there’s a finite depth of soil and only so many soil organisms to work with, most of which would be limited in growth by water availability.

    Nup, honestly can’t see how Lulu and her friends are going to help in the long term. It’s reforming electricity generation and transport first, then we need to get really serious.

  2. Ambi:
    Charcoal sequestration can improve soil quality, moisture retention and water retention. Most famously used in the Amazon area. Turnbull was pushing it at one stage. The charcoal production stage can produce bio-fuels. Not saying that it could produce much difference at an acceptable rate,
    Basically we have to fix up power reduction and use some of this renewable power to produce replacements for fossil carbon.

  3. Power production (renewables)
    And power reduction….

    Both are doable, progress being made already.

  4. John, it’s difficult to find up to date info on per capita emissions. I think your link counts CO2 rather than GHG, or CO2e, so the numbers seem a bit low to me.

    This NZ site is 2014, but shows a very clear picture of us in the context of OECD countries.

    EDGAR I would think is reliable, but 2012.

    EDGAR also have a large file from 2017, which has a lot of information.

    Bottom line is that we are top of the tree, and need to do more, much more.

    There was an IQ Squared Debate played last week on RN on
    Is it too soon to ditch fossil fuels?

    It think it was Ketan Joshi who said that if you add up all the countries that have between one and two per cent of global emissions it amounts to over 60% of all emissions.

  5. I omitted a link to the media release from Melissa Price.

    The latest report on Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory released today clearly shows Australia is on track to beat its 2020 emissions target.

    No mention of the 2030 target.

    It also includes this:

    Under the Emissions Reduction Fund, landholders, Indigenous Australians, councils, farmers and industry, are delivering projects that directly contribute to our emissions targets. More than 700 projects are registered under the Fund.

    These projects are reducing emissions in the agriculture, manufacturing, energy, mining, oil and gas, transport, vegetation management, waste and waste water sectors. Around 192 million tonnes of abatement have been contracted by the Australian Government, at an average price of $11.97 per tonne.

    I have to admit that I haven’t taken much interest in the Emissions Reduction Fund. Are we to take it that without the ERF the steady increase in emissions from around 2015 would be even worse?

  6. Latest from the IPCC has hit the news.
    Worth a long discussion here.

    Looking forward to dissecting it.

    Just heard the PM say, it’s a global report, not a report about Australia; we contribute only 1% of global emissions.

    Which planet does he think Australia is a continent on?

  7. The Guardian Australia has some comments on the IPCC report by scientists and (mostly ex-) politicians, but The Age online leads with player trading in something called the AFL.

    Apparently the AFL will not be affected by rising temperatures etc.

  8. Ambi, I’m bout half way there with an initial reaction to the IPCC report. The most succinct quality reaction is Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate. However, David Spratt’s post IPCC’s political fix on 1.5°C will undermine its credibility stands. I’ll be interested in what Spratt and Dunlop have to say now the report is out.

    ScoMo has dismissed the report, says all that matters is electricity prices. Angus Taylor says it’s Melissa Price’s patch. Price says she hasn’t read it.

    Mark Butler says it’s what Labor’s policy was always about (RN Breakfast this morning).

    The Fin Review says the election next year could be about the Great Barrier Reef.

    That’s progress!

  9. Brian (Re: OCTOBER 9, 2018 AT 9:24 AM):

    ScoMo has dismissed the report, says all that matters is electricity prices.

    In What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk, on page 39, it includes (bold text my emphasis):

    After three decades of global inaction, climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. It implies large negative consequences, which will be irreversible, resulting in major reductions in global and national population, mass species extinction, economic disruption and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are rapidly reduced. The risk is immediate, in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding and sustaining the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature increase limits is already exhausted.

    As one of the countries most exposed to climate impacts, and in the top half dozen carbon polluters worldwide when exports are included, this should be a major concern to Australia. Instead, it is ignored, with many parliamentarians refusing to even accept that human-induced climate change is happening.

    From yesterday’s IPCC Press Release, it includes (bold text my emphasis):

    “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

    Limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds, added Pörtner. The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5ºC, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be.

    It seems it’s all about the short-term with ScoMo. By dismissing the latest IPCC report ScoMo is dismissing our descendants’ futures. ScoMo risks our children’s extinction. That’s something to think about next time you vote.

  10. Posted today in The Guardian by Paul Karp is an article headlined Australian government backs coal in defiance of IPCC climate warning, beginning with:

    The Australian government has rejected the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s call to phase out coal power by 2050, claiming renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power.

    The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said Australia should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal reserves, despite the IPCC’s dire warnings the world has just 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe.

    He said the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.

    Yes… just dismiss the work of thousands of scientists. What would they know? Just ignore what science is telling us, and risk our long-term prosperity… even our survival!

    It amazes me that the farmers continue to support The Nationals.

    And the claim that “renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power” is bold. Coal is a finite resource – what happens when the supply of coal is exhausted? A NSW Government flyer indicates, dated Nov 2017:

    In 2016–17, the NSW coal industry produced 253.5 million tonnes (Mt) run-of-mine (ROM), yielding 198.2 Mt of saleable coal, worth around $20 billion or approximately
    80% of the total value of the state’s mineral production.

    NSW has more than 7 billion tonnes of recoverable coal reserves contained within 40 operating mines, and over 20 new major development proposals.

    (7 billion tonnes) divided by (253.5 million tonnes per year) equals 27.6 years. What does NSW do when it’s 7 Gt coal reserves are exhausted?

  11. And posted a few hours ago on The Betoota Advocate is an article headlined Environment Minister Who Used To Work In Mining Sector Bit Skeptical Of 91 Different Scientists. It begins with:

    Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price has put some of her extensive scientific knowledge to good use today by calling bullshit on the recent report released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    “These 91 scientists behind the report got it wrong,” she said.

    Satire to show up the hubris and stupidity.

  12. Thanks for all that, Geoff.

    Apart from other distractions last night I actually went backwards in doing a post about the IPCC paper. I’ve had difficulty in finding the best structure for what I want to say, so perhaps third time lucky.

    I’ve cancelled work this afternoon, because the prospect was driving half an hour, getting set up, then watching the storms come over. This year we are getting smallish calls, but some quite savage.

    So I’ll see how I go with writing.

  13. Meanwhile, the press are reporting very strong criticism of the Federal Govt for dropping the NEG, from a Kerry Schott, whoever she might be.

    I hope she doesn’t resign.
    Stay in and fight, please.

  14. Meanwhile in the Guardian, John Quiggin calls for a publicly owned grid; and a re-design of the whole electricity supply system, from the ground up.

    He claims privatising the system hasn’t worked.

  15. Apparently a Dr A. Finkel is developing a plan for a national hydrogen fuel/energy industry, with dedicated solar and wind generation to power the production of H2.

    Apparently Dr Finkel sees possibilities for exporting hydrogen (for instance, to Japan). He hopes to present his ideas to COAG in December. It is said that Brunei and Norway are already “in the race” to set up hydrogen exporting industries.


    1. In my opinion, Japan would be better placed to produce their own H2 locally, since I hear that the ingredients: sunlight, wind and water are available to them locally. (Might take their minds off whale slaughter.)

    2. Surely individual States could make progress on this, regardless of fossils elsewhere in government circles?}

    Source: Fairfax online

  16. GM:

    Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price has put some of her extensive scientific knowledge to good use today by calling bullshit on the recent report released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    Melissa was a mining lawyer. This doesn’t preclude having a good grasp of science but it does suggest claiming her science is ahead of the international panel is a bit rich.

  17. The Betoota Advocate
    The Shovel, both in Australia, and
    The Onion In the US are all satirical news websites.

    Sadly, truth is often stranger than fiction. And satire veers very close to reality.

    (It’s no use yearning for the days of Jonathan Swift, when a giant strode amongst midgets and things were clear cut.)

    On Melissa, let’s hope she is well advised by public servants.

  18. John Davidson (Re: OCTOBER 10, 2018 AT 10:39 PM):

    Melissa was a mining lawyer. This doesn’t preclude having a good grasp of science but it does suggest claiming her science is ahead of the international panel is a bit rich.

    I agree with you that being “a mining lawyer” “doesn’t preclude having a good grasp of science“. However, the evidence suggests something else is happening…

    From Monday’s IPCC press release:

    “With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

    Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.

    On Tuesday (Oct 9), in an interview with Sabra Lane on ABC Radio AM programme, Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price said (per the transcript):

    Well, I imagine that they’ll be – the private sector will be looking at whether they are going to do a coal fired power station.

    But you know, coal does form a very important part of the Australian energy mix, and we make no apology for the fact that our focus at the moment is on getting electricity prices down.

    You know, every year there’s new technology with respect to coal, and what its contribution is to emissions.

    So, I think-I think you know to say that it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow.

    But, you know, we’re a responsible Government, we look at these things as they do… form part…

    For Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price to effectively dismiss scientific advice (by saying it’s “drawing a very long bow“) based on “more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide” suggests to me supreme hubris (i.e. excessive pride or self-confidence) and dangerous stupidity.

    How is Melissa Price’s “expertise” and opinions superior to the scientific advice from the IPCC?

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