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Australia’s greenhouse emissions set new seven-year highs on gas boom

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The government focused on a seasonal drop in emissions of 0.4 per cent compared with the final quarter of 2018.

It also sought to highlight that annual emissions remain 14 per cent below the peak recorded in the final year of the Howard government, and that on a per capita basis, emissions are about 40 per cent less than in 1990.

Greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, trapping more heat and driving climate change.

Australia committed under the Paris climate agreement to cut emissions to about 26 per cent below 2005 levels. Current policies, though, would see almost half of the ambition for the 2021-30 decade met by the use of so-called “Kyoto carry-over credits” that most nations with them have declared they won’t use to meet the Paris goal.

Angus Taylor, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, said that in the last three quarters, emissions had twice decreased on a seasonally adjusted basis.

“We expect to exceed our Kyoto 2020 target by 367 million tonnes [of CO2-e] and we have laid out how we will achieve our Paris 2030 targets to the last tonne in our $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package,” Mr Taylor said. “We will meet our international obligations without wrecking our economy.”

The emissions data’s release coincided with a separate government report that downgraded the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef to “very poor”, in part because of climate change risks.

Gas exports pump up emissions

The latest data show the electricity sector used 23.1 per cent less gas in the year to March, while brown-coal consumption eased back 0.7 per cent.

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Overall, though, gas use has been the main reason for the recent rise in annual greenhouse emissions. The  liquified natural gas boom has propelled Australia past Qatar as the world’s biggest exporter in the December.

Emissions from the gas sector contribute to the overall total on several counts. Fugitive emissions, for instance, rose 5.9 per cent in the year to March 2019 to 59.6 million tonnes of CO2-e, with gas a major source.

Stationary energy use excluding the electricity sector – which takes in the processing of gas for export – also rose at an annual rate of more than 5 per cent for the year to March. This segment topped 103.8 million tonnes of CO2-e, trialling only the power sector emissions – at 178.5 million tonnes of CO2-e – among all emission sources.

Agriculture was the other main sector to report a drop in annual emissions, easing 4.8 per cent to 68.6 million tonnes of CO2-e.

Changes in land use, which includes deforestation, contributed less of a carbon sink in the past year but were still calculated as a 19.4 million tonnes of C02 reduction to the total.

The Australia Institute and other non-government groups doubt the veracity of the land use figures, however, as they have largely failed to pick up a big increase in land clearing in Queensland in recent years and more lately in NSW.

‘Catastrophe’

Mark Butler’s Labor’s climate spokesman, said: “Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor and the Coalition can’t hide from the data – carbon emissions continue to rise under this Government”.

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“It’s no surprise given this government’s only plan is to waste an additional $2 billion, on top of the $2.55 billion already allocated, on Tony Abbott’s failed climate policy,” Mr Butler said.

Adam Bandt, the Greens’ climate spokesman said, the warming projections showed “Australia is on a collision course with climate catastrophe”.

“The only way to get our pollution under control, meet our international obligations under the Paris agreement and avoid a climate catastrophe is to urgently begin the phase out of coal and gas,” Mr Bandt said.

“Burning coal and gas remains the main driver of the climate crisis and Australia is now the number one exporter of coal and gas, with quantities projected to increase dramatically in coming years,” Matt Rose, a program director at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said.

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