Forget Paris: Australia needs to stop pretending we're tackling climate change

January 11, 2018

 

As the Bureau of Meteorology confirms another record-breaking year for temperatures in Australia, we should expect a sense of urgency to be creeping into Australia's climate policy.

Instead, we're seeing the opposite.

 

While 2015-17 were all within the hottest six years on record, our carbon emissions also continued to increase during the same period, including an all-time peak in 2017, when unreliable land-use data was excluded from the analysis.

 

This is despite signing up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, which outlined a plan to reduce our carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.

 

Government data pushed out under the cloak of Christmas indicates that we will be about 140 million tonnes — or about 30 per cent — above that target based on current growth.

 

And this is under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull, who in 2010 warned that "the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic."

 

At the time, he argued that effective action on climate change required moving to "zero, or very near zero emissions [energy] sources.

"The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

 

The aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep global temperature increase to "well below" 2 degrees, and to attempt to achieve a limit of 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels.

Last year averaged 0.95 of a degree above Australia's long-term average, the Bureau's Blair Trewin told RN yesterday.

 

He warns that the emissions we're producing today are setting in stone rising temperatures in the decades to come.

 

"We've got a warming trend of about a degree over the last century in Australia and all of the indications are that this will continue," he said.

 

"How much more warming we see: that depends on a number of things, but particularly what happens to greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades."

 

For Australia's part, getting anywhere near our Paris targets means tackling our key emissions sources — electricity, transport, industry and agriculture, and reversing alarming deforestation trends.

Forests act as invaluable carbon sinks, yet in Queensland alone in 2015-16, 395,000 hectares of forest were cleared following the relaxation of land clearing laws under the Newman LNP government.

That number is feared to hit around a million hectares based on estimates from Queensland's self-assessment data, putting that state on par with Brazil.

 

And unreliable data on land clearing emissions mean we may actually be underestimating our carbon footprint.

The Federal Government has acknowledged that estimates of carbon emissions from land-use changes are difficult to gauge.

Emissions from land-clearing in Queensland totalled 45 million tonnes in 2015-16 according to state Environment Minister Steven Miles, but the Federal Government's estimates for the same period showed only a 1.7 million tonne change on the year prior.

 

 

 

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