Government’s new emissions report has been released. Here’s how to make sense of it

The nation’s greenhouse inventory recorded a 0.4% drop in overall emissions compared to the same period last year, but with transport and livestock emissions increasing.

Most nations are expected to release regular estimates of greenhouse gas emissions, described as the “inventory.”

In Australia’s case the report says there has been a 24.7% drop in emissions from June 2005 to December 2022. To meet our Paris targets we’ll need at least a 57% reduction by 2030.

Critics warn that much of the emissions reduction has come not from policy, but from deforestation which is no longer occurring at such a high rate in Australia.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen says while the policy changes implemented since the Albanese Government came to power a year ago, “we have much more to do.”

“Reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism, developing Australia’s offshore wind and hydrogen industries, and increasing the uptake of cleaner-cheaper to run cars will help ensure we are on track to reach 43% emissions reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050.”

Every three months, the government releases a document called the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory which gives an update of Australia’s emissions. This is mostly collected using ‘bottom-up’ reporting – data collected and collated by the government from industry, agriculture and other areas. There has been a push to include more ‘top down’ satellite emissions to ensure more accuracy, but this hasn’t been done at scale.

The report highlights emissions from electricity generation have gone down from 208 megatons of carbon dioxide (MT CO2) equivalent emissions at the peak in 2009, to 155 MT in 2022.

Transport emissions have increased, as did agricultural emissions.

What the government calls ‘Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry’ has netted out some of that increase – at least in theory – providing more of a carbon ‘sink’ due to two years of La Nina conditions. Currently the government suggests that these forests and planted locations absorb almost 64 MT of carbon, which they then deduct from the total emissions.

“Emissions are rebounding in transport and other areas and have been covered-up by what might be a temporary increase in carbon storage in forests and vegetation,” says senior scientist Bill Hare at Climate Analytics.

“This is a long-standing Australian disease in the climate area. Successive governments of all political complexities have essentially covered up what’s going on with the land sector and carbon storage.”

He suggests that because the much of the increase in the last few years is due to methodological changes or climate events, it obscures higher emissions that could be lowered by policy like transport, electricity, or industry.

The emissions reduction of 0.04% is “not due to any actual policies at the stage,” he adds.

The Greens leader Adam Bandt has suggested that the increase in gas emissions is another reason the government should not open new coal and gas mines.

“Even the Department’s own report admits that this pitiful performance is because of the ‘continued growth in the production and export of LNG’,” says Bandt.

“On these figures, if Labor keeps opening more coal and gas, Labor won’t meet even its own recklessly low pollution targets, let alone help keep warming below the Paris Agreement goals.”

You can read the full report here.

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