Australia’s commitment to Emissions reductions.

For anyone who’s been following our pretences in the international arena to emissions reductions under the Kyoto protocol, this weeks announcement of a ‘target’ under the second Kyoto period – 2013-20 -will come as no surprise; we don’t plan on making any further ‘cuts’.

 In fact this isn’t quite true – we plan to make a cut of 0.5% on 1990 levels by 2020 – a cynical and ridiculous target which is necessary to avoid rejection from the whole process, and official categorisation as a pariah state on climate change action.  There are many countries around the world who are at least making an effort to do the right thing, and prepared to make some sacrifices for the global effort to tackle and slow climate change, and it is to be hoped that they will see straight through Australia’s ‘bad-faith’ commitments. At some point these countries may begin to think about punishing Australia for its pursuit of self interest, by putting taxes on Australia’s high carbon exports – a categorisation that will now apply to everything we export as it will be tarred with the one dirty brush.

  Central to understanding our bad-faith commitment to action on carbon emissions is the realisation that we started with an original sin – fiddling our figures on the 1990 base line with some bogus claims about land-clearing, and arguing a ‘special case’ to be allowed this concession when no other country is.  This has given us a head start to claim increases as reductions, but now the rort is finally catching up; we have no more land-clearing to stop and so  must find something else, and this is — stopping land clearing somewhere else!

  So our planned real emissions for 2030 will be in the order of 30% greater than now, but by claiming foreign offsets as well as dubious domestic offsets, we will pretend to make a reduction.. (a little reduction)

 In the recent Energy White Paper, the government predicted increasing use of gas for electricity generation, and a corresponding reduction in emissions from this source. Some recent events however put this in doubt. 

 There is currently a big push on to ‘exploit’ our reserves of Coal Seam Gas – that is Methane currently locked in Coal deposits – and this is being portrayed by the energy industry as necessary to ensure ‘energy security’ for the future. Notwithstanding the well publicised hazards of CSG extraction, or at least the hazards of copying cowboy operators like Halliburton in the US who have made such a killing out of ‘Shale gas’ there in the last five years – research last week revealed that the ‘carbon emissions’ from CSG extraction may be a lot higher than they appear because of Methane leakage in the process. This research showed that it was highly likely that these ‘fugitive emissions’ from CSG extraction could constitute 2-4% of the Methane taken out. Because methane has a ‘greenhouse effect’ around 75 times that of Carbon Dioxide in the short term ( less in the long term thanks to its shorter life in the atmosphere), a leakage of this order is equivalent to 150 – 300% extra emissions of ‘CO2 equivalent’ gas.  When one takes into account also that methane is commonly ‘contaminated’ with carbon dioxide, up to 20% depending on the source, the ‘Golden Age of Gas’ foreseen by Energy minister Martin Ferguson doesn’t look so golden at all, except in the way of the bags of gold energy companies plan to extract from the Australian householder.

  – And all this in a week when reports of melting Arctic permafrost portend an accelerating problem with methane’s Greenhouse warming ability; the quantities of the gas which could come from these mountains of thawing organic matter in the tundra would dwarf even our profligate emissions.

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