Decreases in carbon emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic have stalled, with the latest quarterly update of Australia’s greenhouse gas inventory confirming an increase in the nation’s carbon output in the first nine months of 2022.
They jumped by 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, a measurement of all greenhouse gases including sources such as methane.
That’s a 0.1 percent increase on the same time in 2021.
The report says this was mainly driven by the agriculture and transport sectors. Emissions from electricity generation were down by around 5.1 million tonnes, driven by renewable energy uptake, but still accounts for a third of the nation’s carbon output.
Stationary energy and transport each account for a fifth of emissions, and agriculture for 16%. Fugitive emissions – leaks from processes such as storage and extraction – account for a tenth.
Preliminary estimates up to the end of 2022 suggest emissions will decrease by 0.1% year-on-year.
The Albanese Government was elected in May 2022 and legislated two formal carbon reduction targets: for Australia to reach net-zero carbon emissions – that is, every molecule of carbon released into the atmosphere is removed – by 2050 and for a 43% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade.
However environmental lobby groups have expressed concerns at centrepiece climate policies, including reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism designed to drive down carbon output from the facilities that emit over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. Together, these 215 sites account for over a quarter of Australia’s total emissions.
When launching the greenhouse gas accounts for September, Bowen said “it’s critical we progress swiftly with other major reforms like the Safeguard Mechanism and the National Electric Vehicle and National Energy Performance Strategies”.
But international climate science analysis centre Climate Analytics found the government’s proposed reforms would exceed the ‘ceiling’ built into the Safeguard Mechanism. It believes government predictions of a 20% rise in emissions from the gas sector will be surpassed, forecasting a 36% increase.
It said coal mining, projected to decline by 10%, might instead rise between 23 to 116%.
“The government appears to have significantly underestimated the likely emissions from LNG and coal by 2030, and our projections show these are set to soar,” says Climate Analytics chief executive, Dr Bill Hare.
“Because the government has set no limit on the amount of carbon offsets industry is allowed to use, there will be a free-for-all for these credits by the LNG and coal industry.
“The Safeguard Mechanism will therefore not work to drive emissions down as it’s supposed to, particularly given the integrity issues found to be widespread within Australia’s offset scheme by independent experts.”
On the back of today’s figures, climate scientists and policy experts have reiterated to Cosmos that carbon emissions need to hit freefall in coming years.
“We should be very worried even if the emissions increase is small,” says ANU climate policy lecturer Aaron Tang.
“Not only do we need to get emissions to zero, we need to actively remove greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. That’s how bad the situation is. An increase in emissions, whatever the size, is the opposite of what needs to happen.”
CSIRO chief research scientist Dr Pep Canadell indicated while the overall increase in emissions was “modest”, Australia’s trend is heading in the wrong direction.
“With eight years to go, the trend should clearly be the one of step decline, not the one of increasing, even if a modest increase compared to years ago,” he says.