COVID-19 slump puts Australia’s emissions on Paris track – temporarily

The economic slump prompted by COVID-19 has put Australia's carbon emissions on course to reach the country's Paris 2030 climate target, although the dip is likely to be reversed as soon as demand revives.

Analysis of energy consumption by Ndevr Environmental Consulting indicates national emissions in the final quarter of the 2019-20 year were the equivalent of 122.2 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide, a steep 10.9 Mt CO2-drop on the same quarter a year earlier.

Going down: Angus Taylor, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, after speaking at the AFR’s climate and energy conference in Sydney on Monday.Credit:Louie Douvisd

For the 12 months to last June, emissions fell 2.7 per cent on the previous year. If that annual rate were to be maintained, Australia's emissions would shrink to the level agreed at the 2015 Paris accord by 2031, less than a year late.

However, the lower trajectory is likely to be temporary if – as expected – energy consumption rebounds in line with easing coronavirus restrictions.

"It's as good as it's going to get," Matt Drum, director of Ndevr, said. "There's been no fundamental shift."

"[Emissions] are not going to keep heading down unless COVID-19 lasts until 2030, and obviously no-one thinks or hopes that will happen."

The Morrison government's climate policies have come under increased scrutiny in recent months with one major trading partner after another setting net-zero emissions targets, mostly for 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week signalled Australia may abandon its controversial plan to use so-called credits from the current Kyoto Protocol period that ends this year to count towards the Paris goals. So far, the government is yet to commit to carbon neutrality under the second half of the century.

Angus Taylor, the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, was approached for comment.

On Ndevr's figures, Australia would still meet its pledge of cutting 2005-level carbon pollution by at least 26 per cent by 2031 – or about a year late – based on the emissions drop during the most recent fiscal year.

[Emissions] are not going to keep heading down unless COVID-19 lasts until 2030

Among the drivers of the lower tally was the power sector, with quarterly greenhouse gas emissions running at their lowest rate since at 2002 and renewable energy supplies grabbing their biggest share on record.

For the eastern states in the National Electricity Market, clean energy including solar, wind and hydro supplied 25.7 per cent of all electricity, Ndevr said.

Some of the power industry emissions decline was related to lower electricity demand, with National Electricity Market (NEM) supplies falling 4.5 per cent in March compared with a year earlier. Some of that drop eased by September although demand was still 2 per below September 2019 levels.

Aviation fuel use remained near their lows, with consumption in April and July both more than 600 million litres below the level of the same months a year earlier, a dive of 74 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively.

Fuel use for road transport posted a smaller decline, with petrol, diesel, LPG and other liquid fuels off 6.5 per cent for the January-September period compared with the year earlier.

Travel demand has been curbed with many people opting to work more from home even as the pandemic recedes. Car use, though, has been boosted by commuters avoiding travel on public transport, Mr Drum said.

The latest Australian emissions projections come as the World Meteorological Organization reported on Monday that global atmospheric concentrations continued to rise at a record pace in 2019.

"We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015," WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas, said. "And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records."

"The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” Prof Taalas said in a statement.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change. However, it does provide us with a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net-zero through a complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems," he said.

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