Emissions fell 3.5 per cent in the electricity sector, which accounts for the biggest share of pollution as brown coal supply fell and supply of renewables increased. Emissions from agriculture were also lower (by 3.3 per cent), largely due to a decline in the beef cattle population.
For the December quarter, national emission levels rose 0.8 per cent on the prior quarter, seasonally adjusted. This bucks the usual trend for the December quarter, when emissions tend to be lower than the previous three months as heating and cooling use falls in milder spring conditions.
Australia’s emissions for the year to December 31 were 0.4 per cent higher than emissions in 2000 and about 12 per cent below 2005 levels. Under the Paris targets to which the Morrison government has committed, Australia is aiming to cut emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Mr Taylor, who gained responsibility for emissions reduction policy in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s post-election cabinet reshuffle, on Thursday pointed to figures showing that emissions per capita in 2018 were at their lowest levels in 29 years.
However, this measure is irrelevant to the nation’s progress towards reducing total emissions. Per capita emissions in Australia have generally fallen for several decades under successive governments amid technology advances and as the population grows.
Mr Taylor also said the figures did not acknowledge Australia’s contribution to lowering emissions in other countries through exports of LNG, which creates fewer emissions than coal.
“This is a substantial global contribution to be proud of. The Morrison government is not going to trash successful Australian export industries that are reducing global emissions, in order to reduce Australian emissions,” he said.
Each nation’s contribution to the Paris treaty is calculated according to domestic emissions, not the impact of their exports on emissions elsewhere.
Mr Taylor said the government’s $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package would deliver on Australia’s 2030 emission-reduction commitments.
“Our national target is achievable, balanced and responsible. We will meet our international commitments while keeping power prices down, keeping the lights on, and keeping our economy strong,” he said.
The government says it will meet the Paris target by using so-called carry-over carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol period. Those credits total 367 million tonnes, and counting them towards the Paris goals halves Australia’s emissions reduction task.
Mr Taylor has long criticised public subsidies for renewable energy projects but is considering using government funds to underwrite the upgrade of a NSW coal plant, among other projects. The government has also pledged a feasibility study into building a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.