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WA government fails to back up premier’s claim expanding gas industry will be good for planet

Western Australian government declines to say whether Roger Cook’s claims backed by publicly available government or third-party analysis

Western Australian premier Roger Cook said expanding the state’s gas industry would lead to a ‘dramatic reduction in global emissions’. Photograph: Ken Mulvane

The Western Australian government has produced no evidence to back up a claim that expanding the state’s gas industry – and increasing its greenhouse gas pollution in the short term – will be good for the planet as it will lead to a “dramatic reduction” in global emissions.

The premier, Roger Cook, made the claim at a media conference on Thursday. Cook made similar arguments at a WA energy transition summit on Friday, when speakers including the federal resources minister, Madeleine King, backed the development of new gas reserves alongside renewable energy and critical minerals.

Cook told the summit that countries such as Japan and South Korea “would have no choice but to use more coal” if it was not for liquified natural gas [LNG] exported from WA.

“Due to our reliable supply of LNG, our export partners in Asia have been able to move away from coal-fired power and on to gas,” he said.

“Demand for our LNG exports remains very strong. But I want to be clear, this isn’t about gas displacing renewable energy sources. Our trading partners have made commitments and continued to retire coal-fired power plants.”

Cook had earlier told reporters: “Western Australia may be in a position where we see a slight growth in our emissions but you will see a dramatic reduction in global emissions related to that activity.”

The Guardian asked the WA government whether the premier’s claims were backed by a publicly available government or third-party analysis but did not receive a direct answer to the question.

According to Our World in Data, Japan’s share of electricity from coal-fired power has not decreased as gas generation has increased significantly. Coal power has been consistently about a third of total generation over the past decade.

In South Korea, the share of coal generation has dropped by about 10 percentage points since 2017 while gas, nuclear and solar energy has increased.

A 2019 CSIRO report commissioned by Woodside Energy suggested, rather than support renewable energy, increasing Australian gas supply to Asia after 2020 could delay the shift to cleaner technology and lead to higher emissions. It found under a “sustainable development scenario” countries including India, Japan and South Korea should not be targeted for increased gas exports unless renewable options were exhausted.

The WA government spokesperson said the state was “taking decisive action on climate change” but had a “unique economy with a significant number of export-oriented, heavy industries”. The spokesperson said that meant “achieving the twin goals of global and local emissions reduction will look different to that of other jurisdictions”.

“Through the supply of LNG – which is less emissions intensive than coal – WA has an opportunity to leverage our expertise to become world leaders in hydrogen and renewable energy.”

The spokesperson said a global report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) had found switching from coal to gas had avoided about 500m tonnes of CO2 since 2010.

But a world energy outlook published by the IEA last month found the growth era for fossil fuels had finished. It said that did not mean an end to investment in oil and gas but it undermined the rationale for increased spending. It found global investment in oil and gas would need to be cut roughly in half by 2030 to put the world on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Gas is often described as having about half the emissions of coal when burned but studies have found this can vary markedly depending on the site and the level of methane leakage during extraction and production. Renewable and nuclear energy have zero emissions.

The support from the state government for gas expansion echoes language used by the gas industry following court setbacks for major developments, including the Scarborough gas field off the northern WA coast. Cook and King have publicly backed Woodside’s plan to develop both the Scarborough and Browse gas fields, which could result in billions of tonnes of CO2 once the gas was burned in Asia.

Greenpeace’s clean energy transition spokesperson, Jessica Panegyres, said she agreed with Cook that WA could be a global leader and help the world tackle climate change but disagreed that gas expansion was good.

“CSIRO has warned that pushing gas into Asia could displace renewables. The IEA has warned that no new gas projects are needed to limit global warming to 1.5C,” Panegyres said.

“The reality is that expanding WA’s gas exports will only keep our neighbours hooked on fossil fuels for decades to come.”

The chief executive of consultancy firm Climate Analytics, Bill Hare, said the gas expansion planned in WA was consistent with a world that would warm by 3C, not limit heating to 1.5C.

“Academic studies have shown that the world is massively oversupplied with LNG capacity at the very time that Western Australia is planning to expand its capacity,” Hare said.

WA is the only Australian state without a 2030 emissions reduction target. According to the most recent data, its emissions have increased by about 4% since 2005. Emissions from industry, not counting the land sector, have increased by about 40%.


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