PETER SAINSBURY. Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are galloping ahead

Jan 30, 2019

The Australian government’s most recent projections indicate that greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 5.4% between now and 2030, when they will be only 7% below the level in 2005. Such a reduction is well below Australia’s Paris Agreement commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28% between 2005 and 2030. And yet the Prime Minister continues to insist that Australia will achieve its commitment ‘in a canter’. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The latest iteration of the Australian government’s annual report on current and projected greenhouse gas emissions, Australia’s emissions projections 2018, was published just before Christmas 2018. A year ago Pearls & Irritations published an article by me on the 2017 report. The emissions and projections have changed a little during the ensuing twelve months but not substantially and the emissions graph that I presented a year ago from the 2017 report is essentially the same. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the government’s obfuscation and spin, that I criticised a year ago, has not changed.

It is, however, important not to let the most recent report’s findings pass without comment. They clearly demonstrate the duplicity in much of what the government continues to say about Australia’s emissions and the likelihood of our meeting the commitment, made by the Abbott government in Paris in December 2015, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% in 2030 compared with 2005. This being Australia’s not very ambitious contribution to the international effort to keep global warming below 2oC.

Most tellingly, Australia’s actual and projected annual emissions, as presented in the report, are:

Year Emissions Mt CO2-e
2000 547
2005 605
2018 534
2020 540
2030 563
(Australia’s emissions peaked around 2007 and bottomed-out around 2012/13)

So, despite:

  • what we know about the dangers posed by climate change not simply to the environment but also to human health even if warming reaches 1.5oC, never mind 2oC,
  • Australia being one of the world’s richest, most technologically advanced countries …
  • … one that has benefited the most, economically and socially, from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the natural environment over the last two centuries …
  • … one that is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change …
  • … and one that is most blessed with readily accessible sources of renewable energy,

despite all that, the government is casually projecting an increase of 5.4% in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030. But Australia’s emissions in 2030 need to be no higher than 448 Mt CO2-e, not 563 Mt CO2-e, to achieve a reduction of 26% on the 2005 level.

The Prime Minister likes to keep telling us that Australia will meet its greenhouse gas emission targets ‘in a canter’ but this only demonstrates that either he does not understand his own government’s analyses or he thinks we are all wearing blinkers. The 2018 report itself unambiguously states: ‘Total emissions in 2030 are projected to be 563 Mt CO2-e, which is 7 per cent below the 2005 levels (605 Mt CO2-e)’. This is of course nowhere near the promised 26-28% reduction.

If this government were a horse a humane vet would shoot it.

Peter Sainsbury is a specialist in public health medicine. He is a past president of the Public Health Association of Australia and the Climate and Health Alliance. He is extremely pessimistic about the world avoiding catastrophic climate change.

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