First published at nofibs.com.au
Australia's Quarterly Update of Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory to June 2015 was published on Christmas Eve. You can usually tell something is trying to be hidden when it is being released late on a Friday to avoid public and media scrutiny. Doubly so if published on Christmas Eve.
I find it hard to believe that some diligent public servant worked hard to get it completed and published on Christmas eve. Almost certainly, it would have gone through Environment Minister Greg Hunt's desk in recent weeks.
According to the report, total Annual emissions for 2014-15 are estimated to be 537.0 Mt CO2-e, which is an 0.8% increase in emissions when compared with the previous year (excluding land use change emissions). If you include emissions from land use clearing and deforrestation, then our emissions increased by 1.3 per cent.
The unadjusted emissions by sector table shows that electricity emissions, the largest sector by far for Australia's total emissions, jumped 3 per cent in comparing the 2013-14 year to 2014-15 year.
Ploughing a bit deeper into the report reveals that "generation from black coal increasing 1.4%, brown coal increasing by 9.7%, and from wind and other renewables (excluding small-scale solar) increasing 12.2% when compared with the previous twelve months." Over the same period Gas generation decreased by 6.2% and hydroelectric power was also down by 30.3%.
This highlights that the brown coal operators in Victoria's La Trobe Valley are maximising their generating potential to make the most of their assets.
These assets are ageing and the owners know they are running out of time to generate profits before being closed down.
Hydro-power generators, since the abolition of the carbon price in July 2014, have had little incentive to maintain the same level of generation in competition with the huge social subsidies and marginal production costs of coal power.
In fact, Tasmania has experienced several months of below average rainfall which has compromised the health of Tasmanian hydro storages. "By the end of October, Tasmanian hydro capacity was already below 30 per cent capacity, and falling calamitously, despite a dramatic reduction in Tasmanian hydro power output." explains Mike Sandiford from Melbourne University at The Conversation in November 2015.
As there is no price on carbon polluion, the environmental and health costs of running the La Trobe Valley mines and power stations at maximum capacity are being borne by the public. These health and social costs are not to be sneezed at. A recent report prepared for Environment Victoria estimated the annual health costs of coal-fired power for Victoria at $831.5 million and the annual social carbon costs at $2.882 billion, according to The Age report.
If you go to my article on the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory in December 2014, it details "that in the 2013-2014 year to June 2014 (when the carbon tax was in force) greenhouse gas emissions for the energy - electricity sector were reduced by 4 per cent compared to 2012-2013. The rate of reduction had also accelerated from the previous year. Overall, from all sectors annual emissions reduced by 1.4 per cent."
So from a 1.4 per cent reduction in emissions in 2013-14 (excluding land use change emissions) when we had carbon pricing, we have changed and increased emissions by 0.8 per cent. So while Global Carbon Budget Emissions appear to have stalled, and may even decline in 2015, Australia has effectively added to global emissions. Congratulations Environment Minister Greg Hunt in taking us backwards.
Arguments will be put forward that due to Australia's population growth, our emissions are declining in emissions intensity and on a per capita basis. But the important thing to remember is that Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, is cumulative. It is whether we are decreasing total emissions that is the important statistic.
Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council said, "The atmosphere doesn't care about emissions intensity. What matters is what we put into the atmosphere and if we're putting more into the atmosphere than the year before, than we're heading in the wrong direction," he said. "We've got to drop emissions fast. We've got to get out of fossil fuels very quickly, coal first – there can no new coal mines anywhere in the world." according to Latika Bourke writing in the Sydney Morning Herald.
There are also disturbing confirmed cases of black lung diagnosed from Queensland underground coal mines. Black Lung is caused by coal dust and is a result of poor health and safety conditions during mining, transport or processing of coal. The coal miners union, the CFMEU, have called for a public inquiry into the re-emergence of this disease.
Agriculture emissions fall as beef and sheep herds reduce
The National greenhouse gas accounts show that Emissions from agriculture fell by 3.4 per cent. Agriculture makes up about 15 per cent of Australia's total emissions.
This reduction was a result of declining beef cattle populations (from 26.3 to 24.2 million), a 1.3 million reduction in sheep numbers and reduced production of many key crops.
With near El Nino conditions last year and a strong El Nino this year, drought conditions are prevalent for many inland areas, especially for Queensland. Beef herd numbers have hit a twenty year low, according to The Land
Ruminants like beef and sheep are a major source of methane emissions. See Ripple et al (2014) - Ruminants, climate change and climate policy.
Land Use and Forestry emissions suffer 33 per cent increase
The other disturbing figure in the national greenhouse gas accounts is the 33.1 per cent increase in Land use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) emissions from the previous year. Emissions in this area grew from 9.2 Mt CO2-e to 12.3 Mt CO2-e. The report says that "The primary driver for this increase has been increased emissions from deforestation (11.2%)."
Much of this deforestation is continued land clearing in Queensland to create pastures, undertaken under the Newman Government when they rolled back conservation and land clearing legislation.
An ABC news report from June 2015 based on data up to 2013-14 showed that Land clearing soars in Queensland, leaked figures show.
According to Executive summary of land cover change in Queensland 2012-14, in the 2013–14 period 296,324 ha/year of woody vegetation was cleared in Queensland. This represented an 11% increase from the 2012–13 period and was the highest woody vegetation clearing rate since 2006.
A March 2015 article in the Conversation highlights that Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong. The Palaszczuk Labor government has pledged to reform land clearing laws, with the Deputy Premier, the Hon Jackie Trad MP, placed in charge of the reform process. February/March 2016 has been set as the timeframe for introducing legislation into Parliament according to WWF.
In May 2013 I reported on Scientists condemning Queensland Land Clearing changes, warn of biodiversity loss.
Even though land clearing impacts on water quality for the great Barrier reef as well as increasing emissions, there is silence from Environment Minister Greg Hunt on this issue.
Abbot Point dredging approved for coal terminal
In fact, earlier this week Greg Hunt signed approval for dredging operations to commence to build the coal terminal at Abbot Point for shipping coal from the prospective Adani Carmichael coal mine from the Galilee basin. Perhaps it is the reason he has been nicknamed as the 'Minister for Coal'
On Christmas Eve activists occupied the roof of Minister Hunt's electoral office in Melbourne holding signs, "Dirtycoal for christmas" and "Minister for Coal".
The decision for approval of the Carmichael mine has been widely questioned as out of synchronisation with international climate policy and the Paris Agreement recently formulated at the United Nations climate conference. Greg Hunt lead the Australian delegation during the first week of negotiations in Paris.