The Coalition’s latest environmental fraud supported by Murdoch Media again. No surprise there!

Mar 30, 2022
Angus Taylor Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions
Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor asserts that the scheme has been properly vetted. Image: Wikimedia Commons

If no one has noticed a central pillar of Australia’s risibly inadequate GHG reduction commitment of 26-28% by 2030 has recently been demolished by our own scientists.

They have been led by ANU’s Professor Andrew Macintosh whose job until 2 years ago was chair of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee – set up to validate the authenticity of carbon emission credits derived from carbon farming abatement schemes. Macintosh now says bluntly the scheme is a fraud, a waste of money and has outlined these assertions in no less than three academic papers. To quote his extraordinarily scathing and brutally frank assessment verbatim:

 “What is occurring is a fraud on the environment, a fraud on taxpayers and a fraud on unwitting consumers. People are getting credits for not clearing forests that were never going to be cleared, they are getting credits for growing trees that are already there, they are getting credits for growing forests in places that will never sustain permanent forests and they are getting credits for operating electricity generators at large landfills that would have operated anyway”.

Why are these findings so important? It’s because they indicate, if we had any lingering doubts, that we are anything but, as our Prime Minister assures us, on track to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2030. That is, a key element in our GHG emission reduction plan – land management – which was enabling the government to claim an overall reduction in carbon emissions is in no way delivering what is claimed for it.

To fully understand why, its useful to outline how the Government has so misled the Australian pubic by hiding behind a statistically complex fudging of our emissions reduction. This fudge is based on what, in IPCC terminology, is LULUCF – net emissions from land use land use change and forestry. Australia famously held out in the 1997 climate change negotiations to have reductions in land clearing and management counted as a valid instrument of emission reduction. But the original starting date for measuring reductions was set at 1990 – a year in which there was unusually high levels of deforestation but which fell sharply in the ensuing years to 2007.  

This ‘Australia clause’ thus grossly exaggerated the efficacy of our reduction scheme and corrupted any useful comparison with other countries. Just how important this fudge is, is revealed by excluding LULUCF from calculating our GHG emissions in the decade from 2009 to (pre covid) 2019. Australia’s carbon emissions in fact rose by 29% – while our comrades in Russia managed a 34% fall; our western developed nation colleagues such as the USA achieved a 2% rise, Germany and the UK 35% and 43% decreases with only Canada keeping us company with a 21% rise. If LULUCF is including the 2009-2019 timeframe our emissions are purported to have fallen 16% ( still bested by Russia’s and UK’s 49% and 43% falls although better than the US whose emissions increased by 4% and Canada’s by a whopping 36% increase).

The yawning gap between including and not LULUCF underlines just how important the credibility of Australia’s land management schemes is. The problem for the Morrison Government is that Macintosh et al.’s findings are anything but assertions but are based on solid published scientific research. They indicate massive over valuation of carbon farming schemes’ capacity to lower emissions. Of a sample of 119 NSW regeneration projects examined it was found they had earned 17.5m carbon credits (equivalent to 17.5 million tonnes of CO2) as a result of assumed tree growth. In fact, the total forest area was shown to have barely increased. Worse, in an examination of 59 carbon farming projects, forest cover was found to have actually reduced – notwithstanding 8.2m carbon credits with a value of over $100m being allocated. As Macintosh explains much of the problem is that the bulk of land management schemes are being located in marginal semi-arid areas with little capacity to store carbon.  

Not surprisingly, the Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, will have none of this, asserting that the scheme has been properly vetted. The problem is that this was carried out by – yes – private consultants. It is this vetting by the consultants which Macintosh and colleagues examine in detail in an academic paper and in which they conclude, was so flawed in its methodology as to “…render the analysis “invalid”. Equally troubling has been advice from the CSIRO that the methodology used to measure tree cover was invalid. The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee with its current heavy representation of minding and commercial interests is in no mind to contradict Taylor.

Further collateral damage to the efficacy of the Government’s National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS) is found in recent Queensland University satellite imaging studies of Queensland rural properties. These show far less vegetative cover than that used by the NCAS. This  discrepancy is reflected in NCAS estimates of land clearing in Queensland which, inexplicably, have been up to half that of the Queensland Government’s own estimates.

Such findings indicate that the current claimed reduction in GHG emissions contributed by the land sector as a whole (the net of the effect of land clearing and land management projects) are anything but valid accounting. Millions of dollars are being paid out for carbon credits of little value. No wonder that carbon farming is in a boom phase –109 agricultural projects were registered in 2021,up 26% over 2020. Problematically for Australia current land management projects (re-vegetation, reforestation, crop and grazing land management) are one of the few areas which are shown to be contributing to lowering our emissions. Rising underlying industrial emissions are offsetting the admirable gains from renewable energy’s greening of our power grid.

Reducing industrial emissions is not being made any easier by the problematic secondary effect of industry bodies and others buying compromised CTCs. While that may allow them to advertise green credentials it equally serves as an excuse for not directly reducing their own emissions. Going forward, without the lowering of emissions from COVID’s depressing effect on the economy, overall reductions will be all the harder to achieve.   

Stripped of LULUCF then, our underlying reduction of emissions has stalled in recent years. The current government’s IPCC commitment period commences in 2005. But yet again there is statistical obfuscation given 2005 is, like 2009, one of unusually high land clearing in Australia with a sharp fall in succeeding years. Thus, If LULUCF is excluded between 2005 and 2019 our emissions actually rise by around 4% at a time when most major EU countries achieved between 20-35% decreases and the US a 12% decrease.

This is equally not good news for the Labour opposition whose commitment to a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030 is also dependent on land management carbon abatement.

So, when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres justifiably singled out Australia recently as a climate change laggard, he probably only knew half the story about the way we have been cheating on our GHG reduction claims. Greg Sheridan in the Australian (26/7) says Guterres’ statement shows his ‘…crass ignorance…about what Australia has actually done.” One wonders where the crass ignorance lies. 

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