Emissions Rise For First Time In A Decade, Australia Now ‘Comparable To China And India’

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Australia’s emissions have risen for the first time in 10 years, will increase six per cent by 2020, and will not peak before 2030, according to new analysis by market analytics firm RepuTex.

Citing United Nations data, RepuTex said Australia’s emissions growth is among the highest in the developed world. The 2014-15 fiscal year saw a hike of 1.3 per cent in emissions, the first time they’ve risen since 2005-6.

Australia is one of only five developed economies currently expected to grow its emissions to 2020. That puts us behind only Finland, Sweden, and Estonia.

In comparison, the United States is forecast to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020, while the United Kingdom will slash theirs by 37 per cent, the European Union by 18 per cent, and Russia by 31 per cent.

RepuTex Executive Director Hugh Grossman said it is fair to draw comparisons between Australia and developing countries like China and India, which are supposed to bear less of the burden for reducing emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“From a trajectory point of view I suppose it’s a fair comparison in that I think China is certainly aiming to peak its emissions before 2030,” Grossman said.

“[In] India we may not see that, but irrespective, it certainly puts Australia in that [developing world]market as opposed to the rest of the developed world….”

IMAGE: RepuTex
IMAGE: RepuTex

Any policy changes that may help to reverse the trend are expected to be a way off, and Grossman said that “the government’s [own]figures tell us that current policy will not curb emissions growth”.

In other words, Australians can look forward to the current ignominious upward trend continuing.

The government has signalled it will review the Direct Action ‘safeguard mechanism’ the part of the policy designed to prevent companies from increasing their emissions without penalty – in the 2017-18 financial year.

While this is “a good first step,” Grossman said that any changes made as a result of the review are unlikely to kick in for three years. “Realistically by the time the report is tabled we’re looking at it being implemented in the 2018-2019 financial year,” he said.

And so, “for the next three years this is what we’ve got, absolutely. Through to 2020 we’re going to need substantial change to bring this trend under control.”

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IMAGE: RepuTex
IMAGE: RepuTex

The picture painted by RepuTex, which bills itself as Australia’s largest provider of energy and emissions market analysis, looks bleak, but it’s unlikely to eventuate in full out to 2020.

On top of a review of the ‘safeguard mechanism’ the Coalition has promised other changes, including technology improvements and other sources of abatement, will supplement the Direct Action policy in time.

These sorts of changes could not form part of RepuTex’s analysis, Grossman said, because “there’s nothing fleshed out beyond the initial policy concept”.

According to RepuTex, the increase in emissions has been driven by a 33 per cent jump in emissions from land clearing, notably as a result of the former Queensland LNP government’s move towards self-regulation. Increases in brown coal generation and liquified natural gas production have also played a contributing role.

As the trajectory of Australia’s emissions heads the wrong way, RepuTex noted that with the $2.55 billion the government has allocated to spend on its ‘Direct Action’ policy out to 2020 is running out.

The figures will no doubt damage the government’s credibility on climate change, particularly in the wake of the historic international accord agreed in Paris last December, which commits the international community to limiting the rise in average global temperatures to less than two degrees.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has over recent months made much of the fact the government is on track “to meet and beat” its international commitment of a five per cent reduction on 2000-level emissions by 2020.

new matilda, greg hunt
Greg Hunt at an OECD talk in Paris. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell)

With net emissions forecast to grow in real terms by six per cent on current policy settings, Grossman said this is a technical victory only. “Meeting Australia’s abatement task is largely just a victory in accounting terms,” he said.

Hunt’s boast is “not a sign of any progress to reduce emissions,” Grossman said, because it is measured against a complex international accounting system which is not representative of countries’ net greenhouse gas emissions.

As global emissions continue to rise, international scientific bodies last week confirmed that 2015 followed 2014 as the hottest year on record. According to America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ten months of 2015 were the hottest they’ve ever been since records began in 1880.

NOAA said 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the millennium, and December was the hottest any month has been, ever.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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