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Fact Check on Meeting GHG Targets

By Dr Ben Ewald

Question: Is Australia on track to reach its 2030 target of a 26% reduction from 2005 levels?

To reach zero, all sectors will have to cut emissions, so how are the various sectors in Australia progressing? Here are the trend lines for six Australian sectors, in million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year taken from the June 2020 GHG accounts, with only agriculture showing a downward trend, and transport, fugitive emissions and stationary energy showing worrying increases.  

The sector with the most impressive decline is electricity:

And then there is land use change. There has been widespread land clearing, mostly in QLD, but that has slowed and around the country some reforestation has been done. Known as “land use, land use change and forestry: LULUCF” this sector has gone from releasing 90 million tonnes to absorbing 20million tonnes a year although the accounting methods are imperfect and some of this may not be real. In emissions reduction terms this is a one off windfall which will not be repeated. 

In summary 

If you accept land use change as a component of national emissions Australia is currently on the trend line to a 26% reduction by 2030, but the benefits of LULUCF cannot be repeated and there is no source of future reductions. In the rest of the economy, the gains from renewable energy displacing coal are lost to increases in transport and fugitive emissions so we have made zero progress towards the 2030 goal. 

Should LULUCF be included in the account? 

This question has been wrestled with in climate negotiations ever since Kyoto. Forests and land use do absorb and release large amounts of carbon so are important to the climate. However while fossil fuel emissions are irreversible the landscape carbon can rise and fall. Measurements of forest and soil carbon have been made, but extrapolating these to other areas is a problem. Forest carbon can all be released in the next bushfire. LULUCF measurements are uncertain, and changes are insecure. A policy that relies on LULUCF is a policy for failure. 

Data source

https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/national-greenhouse-gas-inventory-quarterly-updates using the spreadsheet from the June 2020 report. 

Footnotes 

This uses year to June figures, which are not yet available for June 2021. There is a small covid dip in the June 2020 numbers and there will be a bigger covid dip in the June 2021 numbers. It is not valid to extrapolate to the full year from the March 2021 numbers as emissions and energy use have seasonal patterns.