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Australia’s emissions are declining, but at a fast enough pace?

The Federal Government has released the March 2021 Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, showing emissions have reached the lowest level on record and are in decline, amongst criticism that Australia is not reducing emissions fast enough to combat climate change. 

Australian emissions are continuing to decline, in the year to March 2021, emissions weighed in at 494.2 million tonnes – 5.3 per cent or 27.8 million tonnes lower than in 2020, with Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions now at 20.8 per cent below 2005 levels (the baseline year for 2030 Paris Agreement target).

Emissions from electricity generation also continued a long-term, structural decline in the year to March 2021, down 5.6 per cent or 9.7 million tonnes.

This continuing decline in emissions has been driven by Australia’s deployment of solar and wind, as the country invests over $35 billion since 2017 in renewables, deploying new wind and solar PV at eight and a half times the global per capita average.

The Government report also shows Australia to beat its 2020 target by 459 million tonnes, and is on track to meet and beat the 2030 Paris target.

Fugitive emissions also fell 8.3 per cent or 4.5 million tonnes, with the ramp up of the Gorgon carbon capture and storage facility in Western Australia making a significant contribution.

A sluggish approach

The Climate Council has responded to the newly released report, with senior researcher, Tim Baxter, stating the country’s emission’s decline is moving at a “snail’s pace”.

“This emissions data release proves the federal government’s climate response is woefully inadequate,” Mr Baxter said. 

“They say we’re ‘on track’ to cut emissions by one third of one percent (0.28 per cent) per year over the next decade. 

“That is a snail’s pace – not the rapid and deep reductions we need to be making this decade.”

The Climate Council says for Australia to play its part in reducing the effects of climate change, it should be aiming for a 75 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. 

This would equate to emissions cuts occurring 21 times faster than what the federal government is currently managing.

“Addressing the climate crisis is a race, but Australia’s response remains sluggish and woefully inadequate,” said Mr Baxter. 

“We should be doing everything we humanly can to respond to a threat as serious and pressing as this.”

Despite hitting milestones such as emissions at the lowest on a per capita basis in three decades and the Federal Government announcing, as part of the 2021-22 Budget, $1.6 billion to meet Australia’s emissions reduction targets, the Climate Council says this is not a big enough contribution for Australia and is too still too slow a reduction. 

“Instead, we are making slow and painful progress at a national level that too often comes down to dumb luck, or happenstance,” Mr Baxter said. 

“The Federal Government has no climate or energy policy which is resulting in emissions cuts. 

“Instead, the Government is relying on things like lower transport demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Federal Government states that between 2005 and 2019, Australia reduced emissions faster than many similar economies, including Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

“Other countries are stepping up to the challenge – including all our strategic allies and trading partners – but we are nowhere to be seen,” Mr Baxter said. 

“Australia needs a credible climate response, and that means making decisions that result in deep and rapid emissions cuts this decade. 

“That’s what the majority of Australians want, and expect.”

The Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: March 2021 can be found here.