The Morrison government has been accused of taking credit for a dip in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with climate scientists slamming the federal government for leaving the heavy lifting to states and territories.
The latest National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data shows a 4.4 per cent decline in emissions in the year to September 2020, falling to the lowest levels in the country since 1995.
The results reflect a growing global trend, with emissions falling by 2.4 billion tonnes last year, a 7 per cent drop from 2019 – largely driven by the coronavirus lockdown.
In Canberra, it was a small cause for celebration, with Energy Minister Angus Taylor touting Australia’s “world-leading deployment of solar and wind” as the reason emissions were 19 per cent below 2005 levels.
“Since 2017, Australia has invested $35 billion in renewables and we are continuing to deploy new solar and wind 10 times faster than the global-per-person average,” Mr Taylor said.
But energy experts said the federal government is taking credit for heavy lifting done by the states and territories.
“The Federal government can take zero credit for the emissions reductions posted today,” said Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter.
These reductions have happened in spite of the federal government, not because of it.”
Mr Baxter said solar and wind projects had largely been led by states and territories and were now being claimed by the federal government.
“Emissions reductions in the electricity sector are due to state and territory-led wind and solar projects coming online in recent months,” he said.
As Australia recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing our emissions levels starting to rebound, with the data for the September quarter revealing a 1.7 per cent increase compared to the previous period.
This was mainly driven by transport as coronavirus restrictions eased across the country.
Mr Baxter said the nation needs a federal target to keep us on track.
“Every state and territory has a net-zero emissions target and is embracing clean, affordable renewable energy to get there,” he said.
“The federal government should be supporting this change instead of planning to spend billions of public dollars on polluting, unnecessary gas projects.”
Most of Australia’s major trading partners have committed to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, including South Korea, the UK, the US, the EU, Japan and China.
Countries like Japan and the EU are also contemplating ‘carbon tariffs’ on imports from high-emitting nations like Australia.
Mr Baxter said the lack of federal action over climate change would soon catch up with Australia – leaving the country paying costly export tariffs and saddled with stranded fossil fuels assets.
“The federal government cannot rely on a pandemic to keep its emissions suppressed,” he said.
“Emissions will rise again unless we change the way we create and use energy, get around, and make products.”
The warning comes as major energy companies, which mainly run off burning coal, topped Australia’s list of biggest carbon polluters from 2019-2020, compiled by the Clean Energy Regulator.
The biggest culprit was AGL, which runs three coal-burning power stations: Liddell, Bayswater, and Loy Yang A. The company put 42.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere over the year.
The next biggest emitter was EnergyAustralia with 17.9 million tonnes followed by Queensland state-owned companies Stawnell in third with 17 million tonnes, Origin with 16 million tonnes in fourth position, and CS Energy in fifth with 13.2 million tonnes.
The writing on the wall for coal is now in bold – with new research released this week showing as many as five of the nation’s coal-fired power stations will be running at a loss by 2025.
Research from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Green Energy Markets showed a combination of wholesale prices hitting six-year lows and a flood of renewables onto the market, would contribute to the loss.
“They will be displaced because wind and solar have no fuel cost and typically bid into the market with prices close to zero,” said co-author Johanna Bowyer.
“We predict that gas power station output will fall by 78 per cent and coal output by 28 per cent by 2025 compared to 2018 levels.”
The report comes as the Nationals recently destabilised the government’s energy plan, by moving to allow Australia’s green bank to invest in fossil fuel projects.
But report co-author Tristan Edis said efforts to prop up these dying plants, were likely to be “counter-productive”.
“The fundamental problem for coal is that solar and wind is here to stay, and coal plants just aren’t flexible enough to manage around them,” said Mr Edis.
“Efforts to keep inflexible coal plants afloat, let alone build new coal power plants, are likely to be counter-productive.”