Australia’s new energy minister Angus Taylor made a claim about carbon emissions this week that looked on the surface to be fantastic news, but on closer inspection is false.
Here is what he wrote in the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday:
“[E]missions reductions are the least of our problems, with every prospect we will reach the 26 per cent reduction below 2005 levels ahead of schedule and without interventions.”
This, he implied, justified the Morrison government’s decision to do nothing to reduce carbon emissions, and focus instead exclusively on price and reliability.
But The New Daily looked into Mr Taylor’s claim, and the evidence suggests it is in one sense downright false, and in another seriously misleading.
Let’s address the seriously misleading aspect first.
Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
According to Mr Taylor’s department, Australia is on track to woefully miss the 2030 target.
On page 11 of this document from December last year, the Department of Environment and Energy projects that if no new emissions-reduction policies are implemented (as none have been), our greenhouse emissions will be just 5 per cent below 2005 levels – not 26 per cent, as Mr Taylor seems to claim.
Mr Taylor’s figures appear at a glance to be off by a massive 21 percentage points.
The New Daily took this apparent inaccuracy up with Mr Taylor’s office, which responded: “Minister Taylor is referring to the electricity sector”.
Mr Taylor, in other words, claims he was referring to a reduction in greenhouse emissions exclusively from the generation of electricity – i.e. not from other sources like transport and agriculture.
He did not contest the fact that Australia is on track to radically miss its economy-wide carbon emissions target, which is the only target that matters to our international obligations under the Paris Agreement.
Regardless of whether or not Mr Taylor is being knowingly misleading, many people reading his statement might have come away with a false sense of security that Australia is on track to meet its emission-reductions target.
As the government data shows, Australia is most emphatically not on track to meet those targets.
So, is he right about the electricity sector?
In a word, no, but it takes some unpacking to explain why.
In claiming that the electricity generation sector – or specifically, the National Energy Market (NEM) – is on track to meet its 26 per cent reduction target, Mr Taylor is relying on projections from the COAG Energy Council.
On page 17 of this report published last month, the Energy Council makes the following claim.
“Annual NEM emissions are expected to fall by over 15 MtCO2 -e between 2017-18 and 2020-21 reflecting the significant volume of renewable energy committed to connect to the NEM over this period. By 2020-21, emissions in the NEM are expected to be around 24 per cent below 2005 levels.”
Mr Taylor’s logic appears to be that, if emissions are down by 24 per cent by 2021, then surely they’ll fall another two percentage points by 2030.
While this assumption might have some intuitive appeal, the Energy Council informs us that it is simply incorrect – and does so in the very next paragraph.
“But without a specific policy commitment to achieve emissions reductions in the NEM, it is expected that cumulative emissions over the decade will not reduce enough for the NEM to meet its share of the national target,” the document warns.
The answer, it goes on to say, is to introduce the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), which would have forced energy generators to limit their emissions.
The Morrison government has scrapped the NEG – the policy that triggered Malcolm Turnbull’s downfall – and has made it clear it will not replace it with anything.
So we are once more back to where we were – on track to miss all our emissions reductions targets.
Minister Taylor’s office did not respond when presented with the evidence that his statement was false.