Greenhouse gas emissions
Increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are contributing to global climate change. Although the climate has always been a major influence on the state of the Australian environment, with high natural variability from year to year, there is strong evidence that the climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in the geological record, largely as a consequence of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems, and affecting economic activity and human wellbeing. It also exacerbates the effects of other pressures on the environment.
Since SoE 2011, there has been a major development in international cooperation to address the global issue of climate change. The Paris Agreement involves 195 countries that aim to limit the increase in global temperatures to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Australian Government’s commitments have become clearer with its signing of the Paris Agreement, and there are indications that some mitigation measures are effective and that a coordinated plan to achieve Australia’s Renewable Energy Target exists.
Governments at all levels have continued to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nationally, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme that started in 2012 was replaced in 2014 with a Direct Action Plan, which includes the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Several state and territory governments have introduced legislation, policies and programs that seek to go further than Australia’s national commitments. For example, the South Australian Government has committed to producing 33 per cent of the state’s electricity requirements from renewable energy sources by 2020. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government has established emissions reduction targets for the ACT of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 and 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2020.
The following emissions data and projections are drawn from Tracking to 2020 (DoE 2015), unless otherwise noted.
In 2014–15, the proportions of greenhouse gases emitted in Australia by sector were:
- electricity generation—33 per cent
- stationary energy use, excluding electricity—17 per cent (i.e. direct combustion of fuels in the manufacturing, mining, residential and commercial sectors)
- transport—17 per cent (i.e. direct combustion of fuels in transportation by road, rail, domestic aviation and domestic shipping)
- agriculture—14 per cent
- fugitive emissions—7 per cent (i.e. unintended emissions of gases from industrial activities)
- industrial processes—6 per cent
- land use, land-use change and forestry—4 per cent
- waste—2 per cent.
The energy sector continues to dominate greenhouse gas emissions, increasing from 74 per cent of net emissions in SoE 2011 to 76 per cent in 2015. Electricity sector emissions have decreased significantly (by 12 per cent) from peaks recorded in 2008–09. However, projections show electricity emissions rising until 2016–17, when the effects of the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target begin to take effect. The decrease in coal-fired electricity generation will also contribute to the decline in emissions from electricity generation.
Direct combustion emissions have increased by 27 per cent since 1999–2000 and are projected to increase by 19 per cent compared with 2014–15 levels by 2019–20. The majority of this growth is driven by an expected growth in exports of Australian commodities.
Transport sector emissions have increased by 25 per cent since 1990–2000 and are projected to be 11 per cent above 2014–15 levels by 2019–20. Fugitive emissions from fossil fuels have decreased by 2 per cent since 1999–2000 and are projected to increase by 21 per cent compared with 2014–15 levels by 2019–20.
Agricultural emissions have decreased by 10 per cent since 1999–2000 and are expected to continue to decrease from 2014–15 levels by 2 per cent by 2019–20.
Industrial process and product-use emissions have increased by 19 per cent since 1999–2000 and are expected to increase slightly by 6 per cent compared with 2014–15 levels by 2019–20.
Waste sector emissions have decreased by 23 per cent since 1999–2000, despite increased waste generation per person, because of increased recycling and methane capture.
Emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry decreased by 64 per cent from 2000 and are projected to continue to decline. However, deforestation emissions are projected to increase in the short term because of the reintroduction of permits for land clearing in Queensland.