Energy Minister Angus Taylor has admitted the government was on track to reduce Australia’s emissions by just 1 per cent before COVID shutdowns and travel restrictions, with critics saying he deserves “no credit” for the latest greenhouse gas figures.
Mr Taylor has been jokingly branded the “Steven Bradbury” of politics, with environmental groups saying the encouraging emissions figures were due to luck.
“COVID is not a climate policy,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.
The latest quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, released Monday, showed Australia’s emissions for the year to June are estimated to be 513.4 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, 3 per cent lower than the previous period.
The decrease is a result of drops in electricity, transport, fugitive emissions, industry, agriculture and waste.
Mr Taylor admitted Australia’s “overachievement” on its 2020 target was largely due to significant structural declines in emissions from the electricity and agriculture sectors. With Australians staying home more, travelling less, and planes grounded, emissions from transport have plummeted.
But there were increases in stationary energy – including manufacturing and mining – and land use emissions and forestry.
Australia has a target of reducing emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. The data shows the goal has been met by 0.7 per cent.
“When we make commitments, we meet and beat them,” Mr Taylor said.
But many pointed out that COVID shutdowns are to ease, asking how much credit the government could take for the emissions reductions, and whether current policy settings would continue to cut emissions once pandemic restrictions disappear.
Asked how much the pandemic had contributed to the emissions drop, Mr Taylor protested that emissions were already going down before it hit.
“Do you know how much?” a reporter asked.
“They were already down a percentage point or more, annualised,” Mr Taylor said.
Asked to clarify, he said the pre-pandemic emissions reduction was on track to be “around 1 per cent” over the latest reporting period. Pressed further on whether he, as Emissions Reduction Minister, thought a 1 per cent drop was an impressive figure, he defended his actions.
“We’re 16.6 per cent down on our 2005 baseline. Our target is 26 per cent, we’ve got 10 years to get there. We’re making extremely good progress,” Mr Taylor said.
The press conference continued.
“You’re in government. Are you happy with a 1 per cent annualised reduction in emissions?” another reporter asked.
“I am terribly happy with the outcomes we’ve seen in these numbers today and in previous numbers. Emissions are coming down,” Mr Taylor said.
Mr Taylor did not directly respond when asked by this reporter if he would be happy with a similar fall in the next reporting period, saying that “what makes [him] happy is reaching our targets”.
In 2019/20, emissions in the National Electricity Market fell 5.3 per cent to a record low. Emissions from cropping and grazing have fallen by 69 per cent in the past three decades, from about 300 million tonnes a year in 1990 to about 92 million tonnes.
In the year to June 2020, emissions were 513.4 million tonnes, 3.0 per cent or 16 million tonnes lower than in 2018/19. This is the lowest level since 1998.
It means progress towards the Paris Agreement goal of reducing 2005 levels by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030.
The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction said emissions were 25 per cent lower than forecast when the Coalition came into government in 2013.
Green groups angry over emissions
Despite Mr Taylor’s upbeat assessment, environmental organisations reacted angrily. Dr Nikola Casule, from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the fall was down to figures outside the government’s control.
“This is Angus Taylor’s Stephen Bradbury moment,” he said, referencing Australian Winter Olympian who won gold after all other skaters in front of him fell over at the final turn in the race.
“It took a global pandemic, dodgy accounting and relying on other parties’ policies to achieve this.”
Dr Casule said the government should be able to claim “no credit” for the figures”.
“This government has done all it can to wind back policies from its predecessor, which were reducing emissions. It’s worse than Steven Bradbery, he was doing his best and got lucky, but this government is winding back policies which were successful,” he told TND.
“Despite that, we’re getting more renewables into the mix and electricity emissions are going down. That’s no credit to Angus Taylor or Scott Morrison … it’s despite their efforts this has happened, not because of them.”
Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at The Australia Institute, said the reductions were due more to external factors.
“A pandemic and a drought don’t make for good climate policy,” he told TND.
“Any credible government would have a credible climate plan. Australia is the only country in the industrialised world that isn’t seeing the opportunity in addressing climate change.”
Mr Merzian noted European nations investing heavily in green industries, and US President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to spend trillions on climate action.
“There’s a lot of jobs in there, but very little jobs in a gas-fired recovery. The best thing would be to get on board with addressing both climate and jobs crises,” he said.
Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie says Australia’s emissions progress is thanks to state policy, with all jurisdictions aiming for net zero by 2050.
“The good news is it looks like the federal government is starting to see that renewables and energy storage technologies create jobs and huge opportunities for Australians,” she said.
“Until we are doing everything we possibly can to avert the climate crisis then we are not doing enough.”