Gas leak: Government tries to release its greenhouse news on the quiet

Harry Taylor, 6, plays on the dust bowl his family farm has become. Rising emissions promise more drought.

Harry Taylor, 6, plays on the dust bowl his family farm has become. Rising emissions promise more drought. Photo: Getty

The Morrison government stands accused of trying to sneak-release the latest greenhouse gas emission figures – they’ve gone up, again – by making them public on the eve of the footy grand finals.

The figures are the latest evidence that Australia will fail to meet its Paris Agreement targets, despite the government’s claims to the contrary.

In the year to March 2018, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.3 per cent – totalling 529.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – according to new figures published late Friday afternoon by the Department of Environment and Energy.

This means that gas emissions stand at the highest level since 2010 – prior to Julia Gillard’s misnamed carbon tax being introduced.

Under the cover of darkness

The Climate Council’s acting CEO, Martin Rice, via email, said:
“The federal government is taking out the trash under the cover of darkness in order to hide our rubbish results on greenhouse gas pollution.”

Dr Rice said Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels have been consistently rising for three years, while the government had failed to roll out any credible climate and energy policy.

“The result of this inaction is Australia is now further away from effectively tackling climate change than ever before,” he said.

“Australians continue to witness the impact of accelerating climate change across the nation, through extreme weather events including soaring temperatures, bushfires and drought.”

Caught on the hop

A spokesman for the Greens, speaking informally, said the party had been caught on the hop by the furtive release, and had not yet had time to fully analyse the figures.

A statement from the Greens climate change and energy spokesman Adam Bandt said: “Dumping this terrible news on grand final eve is a disgrace. Pollution is going up, the government boasts it has no renewables policy and global warming is getting worse.”

Australian Conservation Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said: “This latest pollution scorecard casts extreme doubt over the Morrison government’s claim that Australia will meet our 2030 emissions reduction target ‘in a canter’ without strong new action.

“Slipping this latest data out late on a Friday as Australians prepare for the football grand finals shows that the Morrison government is embarrassed by its lack of climate change action.”

Australia’s Paris climate commitment is to reduce 2005 level pollution by 26-28 per cent by 2030. Emissions have been trending higher for about four years.

The good news aspect of the report is also embarrassing for a government leery of the extent that renewables should play a part in energy policy – if we were to actually have one.

There was a drop of 4.3 per cent in emissions from the electricity sector, where most of our pollution comes from coal power stations, because of the increasing construction of renewables such as solar and wind power – as required by Australia’s national Renewable Energy Target.

As Kelly O’Shanassy observed: “The Morrison government has declared it will not replace this target after 2020, meaning Australian climate pollution is at risk of growing even further.”

There was also a decline in emissions from land use change, with emissions down 5.2 per cent.

Overall, emissions were 134.7 million tonnes, the highest quarterly figure since September 2010.

Renewables helped, gas production didn’t

So what caused the jump? Fugitive emissions jumped 13.7 per cent.

Fugitive emissions, according to the Climate Change Authority, are the gases that leak or are vented during the extraction, production, processing, storage, transmission and distribution of fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil and natural gas. Emissions from decommissioned underground coal mines are also included in this sector.

But most of the fugitive emissions were from increased productivity in the gas sector.

Environment Minister Melissa Price said per-capita emission levels were now 36 per cent below 1990 levels. Well, you’d hope so, because per capita levels in 1990 were through the roof – according to a government greenhouse inventory graph.

“The latest report on Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory released today clearly shows Australia is on track to beat its 2020 emissions target,” Minister Price said in a statement.

But if this was a good news story, why release it on the eve of Australia’s biggest sporting weekend?

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