Renewed push for green recovery as emissions crash under coronavirus restrictions

Energy Minister Angus Taylor says Australia's current emissions reductions are expected and the result of "unsustainable restrictions".

Loy Yang power station is seen in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne,

Loy Yang power station is seen in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne, Source: AAP

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will fall to their lowest level since 1998 as a result of COVID restrictions, according to the latest government data.

But calls are growing for the adoption of a green-led recovery to the crisis amid expectations emissions will soon return to pre-pandemic levels.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the fall in emissions were the result of “unsustainable restrictions” and were to be "expected", after the nation’s economy crashed to a halt during the height of the outbreak.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor speaks during House of Representatives Question Time.
Source: AAP

Richie Merzian of progressive think tank The Australia Institute said the latest figures must be viewed cautiously and in context.

“What we are really worried about is the emissions bouncing back with a vengeance … these aren’t (driven by) policies – these are consequences of our economic response to coronavirus,” he told SBS News.

“We need proactive sustainable policies if we actually are interested in keeping our emissions down and continuing to drive it down.”

The government figures, released by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, give preliminary estimates to the nation’s emissions results to June and official data for March.

Emissions are estimated to fall 8 per cent in the June quarter compared to a year earlier, including a massive 79 per cent reduction in emissions from jet fuel and a 26.7 per cent decline in petrol.

Mr Taylor said restrictions on Australians "livelihood and freedom to travel" had driven the results.

“With the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions being felt across the economy, emissions have reduced as expected,” Mr Taylor said.

In the year to March, it's estimated emissions fell 1.4 per cent, which the government says amounts to a 14.3 per cent below 2005 levels – the baseline for the nation’s Paris agreement.

Australia's commitment to the agreement requires an emissions reduction of at least 26 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

But Independent MP Zali Steggall is lobbying support for a private member bill to get government to commit to a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

She said the nation must place stronger climate action at the centre of its recovery from the pandemic.

“It’s absolutely necessary for the government to focus on a renewable-led recovery,” she said.

“There is only one way to do it and that is with a clean recovery.”

The government’s COVID committee - set up to advise on the nation’s recovery to the pandemic – has asked the government to consider underwriting new investment in gas pipelines.

But Ms Steggall said championing the fossil fuel in Australia's recovery would put the country out of step with counterparts in the European Union adopting renewable-led approaches.

“The Australian Government seems to be the only one at odds, focusing on a fossil fuel technology, which is gas,” Ms Steggall said.

“There's nothing natural about gas as being the backbone of our recovery now.”

Industry super fund CBUS has also backed a “green recovery” from the crisis, announcing it will target a 45 per cent emissions reduction in investments over the next ten years.

Australia is considered one of the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels through coal and liquified natural gas projects.

The latest data showed emissions from exports continue to increase up 1.9 per cent, tied to a 11 per cent increase in LNG exports.

The government said the latest official data - excluding emissions generated by exports – showed emissions have fallen 32 per cent on 2005 levels.

In a statement it said this reflected a “continuing decarbonisation” of the economy.

Published 31 August 2020 at 2:51pm, updated 31 August 2020 at 2:56pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS News