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Australia: Summer emission cuts stymied by growing coal emissions

Date
15 March 2009

Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use across Australia's eastern states totalled 68.7 million tonnes this summer, a fall of just 60,000 tonnes or less than one per cent compared with last summer's emissions.

  • Emissions from coal continue to rise, especially in Victoria
  • NSW and Queensland both see total greenhouse emissions down slightly
  • Petroleum emissions fall across Victoria, NSW, and Queensland
  • Victorian cut energy demand more than other states

Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use across Australia's eastern states totalled 68.7 million tonnes this summer, a fall of just 60,000 tonnes or less than one per cent compared with last summer's emissions. The figures were released today as part of The Climate Group's Greenhouse Indicator Summer Report, which tracks the main sources of greenhouse emissions (those produced by coal, natural gas and petroleum) in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland on a weekly basis.

The reduction was due to a significant fall in emissions from petroleum of almost one million tonnes, or just under four per cent, across all three states. However, this good news was almost entirely wiped out by a continued rise in emissions from coal-fired electricity, which rose by 770,000 tonnes, or 1.9 per cent, compared with the previous summer.*

While Victoria produced more coal-fired electricity this summer, it was the only state to see its electricity use decline.

The emissions picture was not uniform, and varied across the three states.

New South Wales and Queensland's emissions from energy use this summer were 24.7 and 19.1 million tonnes respectively. Both states reduced their overall emissions, by 310,000 tonnes and 230,000 tonnes respectively, when compared with the previous summer.

Both states also saw big reductions in petroleum product emissions (3.6 and 3.7 per cent) with New South Wales also reducing its emissions from coal-fired power by 0.7 per cent or 107,000 tonnes compared with the previous summer. Queensland saw a slight rise in coal-fired emissions of 0.3 per cent.*

In stark contrast, Victoria saw a rise in overall emissions by some 483,000 tonnes when compared with the previous summer, in spite of a 4.6 per cent decrease in petroleum product emissions. The culprit was a 5.6 per cent increase in emissions from Victoria's coal-fired power stations, the equivalent of 851,000 tonnes.

Rupert Posner, Australia Director of The Climate Group said: "This report shows that the good news of decreasing emissions from petroleum products has been entirely undone by another big increase in emissions from coal-fired power stations, particularly those burning the most greenhouse-intensive brown coal.

"These increases in coal emissions come at a time when we need the exact opposite to be happening.

"2009 is an incredibly important year for action on climate change. We have an ever-decreasing window of opportunity to act if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, with potentially catastrophic results in Australia, and around the world.

"We need to quickly find out if we can turn our greenhouse intensive coal-fired power stations into ones that produce electricity with no greenhouse emissions. In other words we need to know pretty soon whether carbon capture and storage is a viable solution for Australia."

The total amount of electricity generated across the East coast states continued its upward trend with 47 million megawatt hours produced in total, 1.7 per cent more than the previous summer. However, emissions from electricity grew more strongly, by 2.1 per cent, reflecting the increased burning of the most greenhouse polluting brown coal in Victoria.

Demand for electricity varied across the states. Despite being the only state to see a rise in its overall emissions compared with last summer, Victoria was the only state to see demand for electricity fall, down one per cent. As a result, Victoria exported significantly more of its electricity compared with the previous summer.

Demand for electricity rose in Queensland, by 3.9 per cent, as well as in New South Wales by 1.2 per cent. However, cleaner sources of generation such as gas and hydro electricity took a larger share of this output. This was especially true in New South Wales which commissioned two new gas generators over the summer period.

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