Australia’s emissions record is terrible. It’s time for this government to stop pretending | Greg Jericho

In the week before Christmas the government yet again released its latest data on greenhouse gas emissions in the hope they would be missed amid other news and the nearing festivities. As we start the new year let us revisit the data and highlight just how terrible the government’s record on emission reduction has been.

The news that the temperature in Penrith reached 47.3C on Sunday naturally had people talking of climate change. And while noting that a very hot day is evidence of climate change is not as stupid as the very stable genius, Donald Trump, suggesting that the cold snap in the east of the USA meant climate change was fake, we should remember that weather – even if it is hot – is still not climate.

Fortunately we do have data that shows the average temperatures for the entire planet over a year, and not just for a day, in a particular part of Australia. Less fortunate however, the data shows that things are very bad.

2017 will be the second warmest year on record and easily the warmest ever for a year not affected by El Nino:

It means that 2017 will be first time in six years that the calendar year has not been warmer than the one which preceded it. But that is small comfort, given it is warmer than every single year that did precede it but one.

All this fits appropriately with the news of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

I should of course note that the news is a bit old – although you might have missed it. In 2016, the government released its emissions data on the Thursday before Christmas Day. Last year they were a bit better – they did it on the Tuesday before Christmas. Rather coincidentally it was also the day Malcolm Turnbull announced the reshuffle of his ministry and the government released its energy policy review.

I know the environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, would be disappointed if you had missed the release amid all that news, so let me give you a recap: short version – they are terrible; long version – they are terrible, and there is little hope that they will get better.

In the 12 months to September 2016, Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions rose to a record level of 550.2 Mt CO2-e if you include the rather dodgy emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sectors.

The government’s report sought to paint a nice picture, noting that this was just 0.7% above the previous year and was “0.8% below emissions in 2000 and 9.1% below emissions in 2005”.

But we can all cherry pick dates. For example, while it might be below 2000 and 2005 levels the latest emissions are around 4% above where they were in June 2014.

The government likes to include LULUCF emissions when comparing with 2000 and 2005, because back then we had a lot of such emissions, due to tree clearing and the like:

If we include such emissions in our overall count it means we can reduce our emissions by simply planting trees, or not clearing land (or promising to do so). That is why both in the Kyoto protocol and in the 2005 Paris agreement, Australian governments have made sure such emissions are counted.

Unfortunately this has been a long practice. The release of the latest cabinet papers from the final years of the Keating government showed the then ALP government sought a “no regrets” policy on climate change which essentially meant doing nothing that would increase electricity prices and trying to achieve reductions through limiting land clearing and planting trees.

The exclusion of LULUCF emissions shows just how greatly this affects our goal of reducing emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2030:

Including LULULCF has us currently 9.1% below 2005 levels, but if you exclude them, Australia’s emissions are nearly 6% higher than they were in 2005.

The reality is “no regrets” and other climate change cons such as a “green army” or direct action do not work. And the latest emissions data shows this clearly.

Since the removal of the carbon price in June 2014, annual emissions have grown every quarter:

And you don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar presiding over a party room full of climate change deniers to know why. Putting a price on carbon provided an incentive for firms to use less of it. Removing that price removed the incentive.

It’s fortunate for the government that there is some good news – though this good news occurred in spite of its policies rather than due to them.

Annual electricity emissions have fallen – down 3.7% in the last year. But mostly this is due to a fall in demand for electricity and the reduction in the use of brown coal generated electricity due to the closure of the Hazelwood power station:

The problem for the government is that while the inclusion of LULUCF emissions and slowing electricity demand do help their path towards a 26% cut on 2005 levels by 2030, they remain a very long way from achieving that aim.

The government also released its latest emissions projection figures. And while the projections are lower than they were a year ago, they still predict Australia’s emissions by 2030 will be just 5% below 2005 levels:

The government’s energy policy – even if it allows a quasi price on carbon through buying of international permits – will not do anywhere near enough to reach the goal (no matter how much it annoys Tony Abbott).

The problem is that even if electricity emissions were to fall by 26% below 2005 levels, Australia’s overall emissions would still be just 9% below 2005 levels (and 4% above if you exclude LULUCF emissions).

The time has come for our politicians to quit pretending we can reduce emissions painlessly. If that was actually possible it would have already been done by every government on the planet. Climate change isn’t a problem because the solution is easy.

Time is running out. Yes, Australia only has a small percentage of the global land mass and emissions but either we are part of the global solution or we stand complicit with the ignorant and the charlatans who would say it is all a hoax.

The aim is to stop temperatures from rising to more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. We are already around 1.1C above those levels. Even using a very conservative liner trend of the past 50 years (something that is close to a best case scenario) we will reach 2C by 2071 – just 53 years time.

If that sounds a long time away, note that according the latest life expectancy figures all Australia males under 28 and all females under 32 can expect to live till then. That means 41% of Australians will likely live to experience such temperatures, unless action is taken.

But while we have a government with climate change deniers in key cabinet positions and which hides emissions data under the cover of Christmas holidays and a news dump I have little faith Australia will be part of any such action.