Emissions on the rise in the power sector: Bayswater Power Station in the NSW Hunter Valley. Photo: Glen McCurtayneThe Abbott government says Australia remains on track to lower greenhouse gas emissions even though total pollution edged higher in the March quarter compared with a year earlier.
The latest quarterly figuresskipped over the December quarter, with the Environment Department telling Fairfax Media it was too busy to compile and release separate year-end totals.
The release of the March quarter emissions figures on Fridayfollows the announcement by the government this month that Australia would aim to cut carbon pollution by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, or about 19 per cent compared with 2000 levels.
The March data also come as US scientists said on Thursday thatJuly was the globally thehottestin 1627 months going back to 1880, as a big El Nino event added to the background warming from climate change.
Land-clearing is on the increase, lifting emissions. Photo: Jon Reid
Environment Minister Greg Hunt focused on the three months’ change in greenhouse gas emissions that excluded changes in land use. These showed a fall of 0.2 per cent, or 500,000tonnes,from the end of 2014, and marked the lowest quarterly total in 10 years. (See chart below.)
“These figures clearly show that it is possible to reduce emissions without Labor’s massive carbon tax which drives up electricity prices for Australian families, pensioners and businesses,” Mr Hunt said.
“Our emissions per person are now at their lowest level in 25 years.”
Hugh Saddler, principal consultant with energyconsultancyPitt & Sherry, said quarterly figures masked longer-term trends and were particularly low in the first three months of 2015 because a mild summer curbed power demand.
“Unusually, there were no heat waves last summer and total electricity demand was the lowest since 2005-06,” Dr Saddler said, adding that annual totals were a much better guide.
“These show that electricity generation emissions in the year to March 2015 were 1.5 per centhigher than in the year to June 2014, and 3.5 per centhigher than in the year to March 2014,” he said. “These figures clearly show a disturbing increase in Australia’s emissions over the past year.”
Fugitive emissions dropped in the quarter because of reduced black coal mining, while land use changes recorded a jump of more than one-third.
The report also noted the fuel mix of the power sector hadchanged, with electricity from browncoal-fired generators up 6.2 per cent in the year to March while gas generation rose 6.9 per cent. Hydro power dropped almost 27 per cent, while wind and other renewables, excluding roof-top solar, rose 12 per cent.
The data release contained little in the way of annual figures for 2014, save for the following table, which showed total emissions fell for a second year in a row but at a slower rate than in 2013 – the first full calendar year of the carbon tax.
Mark Butler, the opposition’s spokesman on climate change, said the removal of the carbon price had led to a clear rebound in emissions from the electricity sector,which accounts for about one-third of Australia’s total.
“There has been a huge rise in carbon emissions caused by the increase in deforestation due to [former Queensland premier]Campbell Newman’s reversal of the landmark land-clearing restrictions introduced in the last decade in Queensland,” Mr Butler said.
“These figures reinforce the importance of a legal cap on carbon pollution and a serious program to expand renewable energy in Australia,” Mr Butler said.
“This data follows projections by [consultants]Reputex that Australia’s carbon pollution levels will rise by 20 per centover the next decade under [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott’s policy.”
Greens deputy leader LarissaWaters said the government was “cherry-picking numbers” that suit them, but the “big picture is that pollution is rising”.
“The Abbott government is playing the same tricky games as they did with their carbon pollution reduction targets,” Senator Waters said.
Australia’s carbon policy is likely tocome under close scrutiny at the Paris climate summit later this year as nations wrangle over a new treaty to reduce emissions in a bid to avoid global temperatures rising more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The latest data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed the average sea and land-surface temperatureworldwide in July was16.61 degrees, eclipsing the previous highest for any month set in 1998 by one-seventh of a degree.
The first seven months of the year were also clearly a record. (See chart below.)
Withthe El Nino still intensifying in the Pacific – an event that typically boostsannual global temperatures by 0.1-0.2 degrees – 2015 is well on track to be the hottest year on record, NOAA said.
2014 data hunt
Fairfax Media sought full details of Australia’s 2014 emissions.
A spokesman for the Environment Department said the effort to prepare Australia’s emissions for the United Nations had diverted resources.
“Up until late May 2015, the department’s focus was on the preparation of the submission of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions information to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeSecretariat to meet reporting obligations under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol,” the spokesman said.
“This year’s submission was prepared under new international rules, required substantial effort and the prioritisation of resources to that UN submission,” the spokesman said.