Sunday, August 31, 2008

New figures show Australia will fail to meet Kyoto target

New data from the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC) shows Australia is likely to fail to meet its Kyoto target. Figures from CDIAC shows Australian CO2 emissions increased 8.5 percent between 2004 and 2005. In 2005 Australia produced 101 metric tonnes of carbon with coal consumption accounting for 58 percent of the total. Australia is the world's fourth largest coal producer and by far the world's largest exporter of coal. The data shows that Australian emissions have grown steadily since World War II and have gone exponential since the 1960s. Emissions grew every year until 1998 before declining slightly. However, the data shows emissions rising again as of 2005.

The data ranks Australia ranked as one of the world' top 10 polluters on per capita use of fossil fuels. The data also shows carbon emissions are growing more than four times faster than figures quoted by the Federal Government, placing Australia's Kyoto target at risk. The Federal Government claims that national fossil fuel emissions rose by only 2 per cent over the same period. Australia has committed to meeting a target of 108 per cent of its 1990 emissions levels (which were 80,000 million tonnes) annually by 2012. But the CDIAC figures of a 130 percent increase as at 2005 suggests this cannot be achieved.

University of Adelaide's Professor Barry Brook agrees with this finding and says the Government are doing nothing to stem the emissions. Brook is the head of the university’s climate change research institute and he condemned the rhetoric about Australia being on track to meet its Kyoto target as merely greenwash. "In terms of fuel use, [emissions are] spirally upwards at an alarming rate," he said. “Even a conservative projection based on the US centre's data suggested that by 2012, Australia fossil fuel emissions could be 37 per cent above 1990 levels.”

Brook also noted the “worrying discrepancy” between CDIAC’s data and Australia’s newly branded Department of Climate Change. Unlike CDIAC, the government’s data (pdf) tracks all greenhouse emissions (not just fossil fuels). Australia’s Kyoto target is based on 108 percent of the 1990 figure of 555 million tonnes. The government’s 2007 tracking document believes the 108 percent figure is possible despite huge increases in energy and industrial use due to significant savings in land use clearance. But as Brook points out, those gains may be illusory - land clearance in Queensland was phased out over the period 2003-2006.

So where does that leave Australia and its Kyoto commitment? According to Clive Hamilton, the Kyoto Protocol is not merely symbolic; it is a very substantial agreement that lays down the framework to begin to deal with global warming. He says the scale of the task should never have been underestimated especially with the Rudd government inheriting a huge greenhouse debt from the previous administration. When world met at Kyoto in 1997 to hammer out the deal, John Howard’s team negotiated a last minute clause into the protocol. The clause was Article 3.7 of the Kyoto Protocol which immediately became infamously known as the “Australia clause”.

The “Australia clause” allowed countries with net emissions from land use change and forestry in 1990 to include them in their 1990 baseline. “Land use change” is a euphemism for land clearing – the removal of vegetation for purposes other than forestry. Because of good agricultural conditions of the times, the late eighties and early nineties were bumper years for land clearing, particularly in Queensland. This artificially raised Australia’s emissions in the Kyoto base year of 1990 by around 30 per cent, masking extraordinary growth in fossil emissions and made the 108 per cent target far cheaper and easier to achieve.

But as Brook pointed out with the Queensland data, Australia has now already played its get-out-of-jail-free card. Any further cuts must now come from coal, oil and gas. These cuts are a legacy of 11 years of profligate Coalition rule. As former shadow environment minister Duncan Kerr put it, the Howard Government’s refusal to introduce abatement measures has turned the target from “a three-inch putt into a six foot one”.

The CDIAC data suggests the ball may actually be stuck in a bunker. Clive Hamilton believes drastic measures must be taken now. He says it is imperative federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong blocks state governments from approving new coal-fired plants. Both Victoria and NSW have been in an obscene rush to get plants off the ground before the Carbon Trading regime is installed in 2010. Last month, Victorian energy minister Peter Bachelor announced the approval of a $750 million Latrobe Valley power station expected to be operational by 2012.

While Victoria seems to be locked into a huge flow of emission for another 40 years, the NSW power industry is in disarray after Premier Iemma’s failure to privatise the industry. Iemma warned the cancellation of the original sale plan won't spare the state from having to invest in upgrading and fitting coal-fired power plants with equipment to reduce pollution, with taxpayers having to meet these costs. But one of the reasons the sale plans fell through is that investors won’t commit until NSW indemnifies them against all future carbon liabilities.

It is not just the power industry that is jockeying for position ahead of the Carbon Trading Scheme. Last week, the Business Council of Australia (representing the 100 largest companies in the country) responded to the Government’s already weak climate green paper by threatening to take industries off-shore if the carbon price was high. It claimed that if the European price of $40 a tonne was brought in, it would force the closing of half the exporting plants in the cement, sugar, paper, electricity, gas and other industries. It demanded polluting industries pay as little as possible for permits, the scheme start later than 2010 and the modest targets be reduced further. As Olga Galacho points out in the Melbourne Herald Sun, the BCA came up with a laundry list of "full compensation for trade exposed, emissions intensive industries and welfare for coal generators.”

As well as pandering to business, Labor will also be sensitive to any voter backlash from the trading scheme. But Hamilton says the scheme must pass seven tests to be successful. It must 1) be illegal to emit greenhouse gases without a permit 2) it must include all fossil emissions, including petrol 3) give no incentives or loopholes to avoid obligations 4) avoid vested interests in the allocation of permits 5) be compatible with overseas schemes 6) avoid putting a price cap on the price of permits and 7) include the flexibility to set more stringent targets as the science changes. The CDIAC data would suggest the time for more stringent targets is already upon us.

1 comment:

Jen Cluse said...

CDIAC (US agency) say we are burning too much?

What would a USA agency know about that of >our< place?

All you have to do is go down to the corner of your nearest major road and see how many small low consumption cars are zipping by - Errmmm

On second thoughts . . .