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:
- LULUCF, the ‘Australia Clause’ and how the Australian Government has used up its emissions ‘fudge factor’
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 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 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.