Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions could return to 2005 levels by 2030 without new government action, contrary to the scenario modelled by the Finkel review, according to a new report by respected analyst Hugh Saddler.
Under Australia’s Paris climate commitments, total emissions are to drop 26-28 per cent on 2005 by the end of the next decade, a pace the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has modelled for the electricity sector in this review.
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While the reductions since 2005 have achieved about half of the annual reductions needed to hit the 2030 goal of 430-442 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, they have come mostly from reduced land clearing in Queensland and NSW. Both states, though, are likely to see emissions rebound from 2013 lows as restrictions ease.
“In the absence of further policy action, Australia’s total emissions will increase from the [2015 level] of 525.6 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent to between 571 and 616 million tonnes by 2030,” Dr Saddler said in the first National Energy Emissions Audit report prepared for The Australia Institute.
Coal’s role in the electricity mix points to an increase before a later drop, according to the Finkel review. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
Transport emissions, in particular, had risen to 95 million tonnes by 2015, compared to 82 million in 2005. “Does anyone believe that in the next 13 years they can be reduced to 59 million tonnes?” the report said.
“The inescapable conclusion is that much – if not most – of the required emissions must come from electricity generation,” Dr Saddler, an honorary associate professor at the Australian National University, said.
The Finkel review, though, only modelled a “par” reduction in emissions, tracking the overall 28 per cent drop pledged to 2030.
Dr Finkel forecast renewable energy to rise to a 42 per cent share of electricity by 2030 from about 17 per cent now. He also recommended such energy sources come with back-up “dispatchable” capacity to enable supply when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining.
Chief Scientist Alan Finkel forecast renewable energy to rise to a 42 per cent share of electricity by 2030 from about 17 per cent now. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
That move, though, would make renewable projects more costly and complex, slowing their uptake, Dr Saddler said. The big three “gentailers” – EnergyAustralia, AGL and Origin – would also be better placed to increase their market share of generation and retailing.
“It’s a very retrograde step,” Dr Saddler said.
(See chart below of fossil fuel emissions trajectory in Australia since 2011.)
Fossil fuel emissions trajectory in Australia since 2011 Illustration: Supplied
For its part, the government remains confident it can meet its 2030 targets.
“We beat our first Kyoto target by 128 million tonnes and we’re on track to meet and beat our 2020 target by 224 million tonnes,” Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister, said.
“We are on track to meet our 2030 target given the level of progress we have made to date and when you compare it to how these targets have been met in the past,” he said.