Global emissions are finally falling — but Australia lags behind

By Lauren Davis
Wednesday, 09 December, 2015

Global emissions are finally falling — but Australia lags behind

When it comes to the world’s carbon emissions for 2015, it’s been a case of good news and bad news.

The good news is that worldwide emissions are projected to decline for the first time since 2009, according to a new report from the Global Carbon Project (GCP). The bad news is that Australian emissions are still on the rise, with the land down under ranked as one of the worst-performing countries in the world in terms of action on climate change.

The Global Carbon Budget 2015 has found that emissions of carbon dioxide in 2015 will break the rapid emissions growth of the past decade, with a projected decline of 0.6%. According to GCP Executive-Director Dr Pep Canadell, from CSIRO, “The major contributor to this change has been decreased coal consumption in China.

“After sustained emissions growth over the past decade, China’s emissions growth slowed to 1.2% in 2014 and is expected to decline by about 4% in 2015,” Dr Canadell continued. But China remains the world’s largest emitter at 9.7 billion tonnes, followed by the USA (5.6 billion), the European Union (3.4 billion) and India (2.6 billion), which together account for almost 60% of global emissions.

Meanwhile, Australia emitted over 1% of the world’s total carbon emissions from fossil fuels at 0.38 billion tonnes, making it the 14th largest contributor. According to the recently released Carbon Emissions Index (CEDEX) report, by pitt&sherry and The Australia Institute, the country’s energy emissions reported by CEDEX have increased by 3.5% in the 15 months since June 2014.

According to Dr Hugh Saddler, principal consultant, energy strategies at pitt&sherry, this rise in emissions has been caused by increased supply from black and brown coal generators. He noted that emissions from petroleum and natural gas appear to be on the increase, with the growth in the former mainly driven by increased consumption of diesel fuel.

Reports from 2005–06, when most CEDEX data became publicly available, find that Australia’s emissions were 6% less than in the year to September 2015. Furthermore, said Dr Saddler, “CEDEX cannot report what is probably Australia’s fastest growing source of emissions — those associated with processing natural gas for export as LNG — because none of the required data are publicly available.”

Dr Saddler seemed doubtful that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could fulfil his promise to the world that Australia will reduce its emissions by 26 to 28% by 2030, estimating that our emissions would have to fall “from current levels by an amount which is around 160 Mt CO2-e, possibly slightly more”.

“This would require an average annual reduction of about 11 Mt CO2-e every year from now until 2030,” he noted, adding that “energy-related emissions are at this moment increasing, rather than decreasing, by about 10 Mt CO2-e each year”.

Australia’s attitude to emissions has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world, with the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2015 ranking Australia last of all the OECD countries on climate action and third-last of the 61 countries analysed, ahead of only Saudi Arabia and Kazhakstan.

While the CCPI report states that Australia “slightly improved its score regarding its efficiency level, policy evaluation and in the renewable sector” this year, it notes that the country’s scores have not changed significantly regarding emissions level and development. Furthermore, it states, “experts criticise that a transition to a lower emission economy will require significant policy changes” — changes far in advance of that which we have so far achieved.

According to Climate Council Chief Councillor Tim Flannery, the analysis indicates that Australia is “failing to make the grade on several counts”.

“Firstly, the government has refused to increase its 2020 target, despite advice from the Climate Change Authority that the conditions in the UN agreement for increasing the target have been met,” he said.

“Secondly, the government is relying desperately on carryover credits from the first Kyoto period to make its 2020 target, despite several of Australia’s allies cancelling their credits so that they make their targets through genuine emissions reduction rather than dodgy accounting.

“And thirdly, despite a change in rhetoric, the government has not yet made any significant policy changes to restore confidence to the renewable energy industry.”

It is clear that the road to a clean energy future will be a long one, not only for Australia but for the rest of the world as well. When describing the target of keeping global average temperature increase below 2°C this century, Dr Canadell said, “Most scenarios exceed the carbon budget for a 2°C warming target in the first half of this century, which then requires up to several billion tonnes of emissions to be removed from the atmosphere each year during the second half of the century.

“Our analysis shows that the required large-scale deployment of emissions-reducing technology, like biomass energy with carbon capture and storage, will be limited by biophysical and socioeconomic constraints,” he continued.

“This points to the need for higher ambition in decoupling economic growth from emissions growth if the two-degree threshold were to be avoided.”

Image caption: The annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industrial processes since 1990. 2014 saw slowed fossil fuel emissions growth and 2015 has a projected decline from the previous year.

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