Australia releases an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions every quarter. This inventory is a public document that can be accessed online from the Department of Climate Change, Energy and Water (DCCEEW) website. The DCCEEW is responsible for compiling and releasing Australia’s GHG inventory reports. The DCCEEW also provides additional ways of accessing the data, such as through an API or downloading datasets specific to different sectors, states, and territories. There is also a subscription service to receive email notifications when new updates are published.
Australia builds its greenhouse gas emissions database from various sources. These include data regularly provided by organisations such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Energy Market Operator. Sector-related emissions data is also obtained from specialised organisations or schemes. For example, the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) provides data on livestock population, crop production, and rice cultivation, while the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme compiles company emissions and consumption data.
The information from this range of sources is compiled by a team of experts. They use a range of models and software tools to develop the inventory following the guidelines and methodologies of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The data is then submitted to the UNFCCC as part of Australia’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. Some of the key personnel responsible for managing the inventory are:
- James Bowden, Secretary of DCCEEW, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: +61 2 6274 1111
- Sarah Jones, Deputy Secretary of DCCEEW, email: email@example.com, phone: +61 2 6274 2222
- David Wilson, Director of National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: +61 2 6274 3333
The most recent date when Australia’s last GHG inventory was released was February 28, 2023, which covered the period up to March 2022. New inventories are released every three months, usually within two months after the end of each quarter. If Australia’s inventory is out of date or released in an inconsistent way, the DCCEEW suggests that this may be due to delays in data availability, quality assurance processes, or technical issues.
The key findings of Australia’s latest GHG Inventory Report were:
- Emissions for the year to March 2023 were estimated to be 465.9 Mt CO2-e, up 0.1% or 0.3 Mt CO2-e on the previous year.
- Emissions in the year to March 2023 were estimated to be 24.4% below emissions in the year to June 2005 (the baseline year for Australia’s 2030 target under the Paris Agreement).
- The emissions intensity of the economy was estimated to be at its lowest level in 32 years, 53.0% below June 2005 levels.
- Emissions per capita were estimated to be 42.1% lower than in June 2005.
Figure: Emissions from 2000 to 2020 by sector according to the national greenhouse gas emissions reporting data provided by DCCEEW
While these findings emphasise the positives of Australia’s emission reduction outcomes, many groups have argued that the data can be misleading. For example, claims that Australia has reduced emissions by 24.4% from June 2005 depend on including ‘land use, land use change and forestry’ emissions reductions in the model. Yet a total of 95% of the fall in emissions since 2005 comes from land use change rather than emissions reductions across other sectors:
Figure: Emissions change by percentage across sectors 2005-2023: Source Greg Jericho, The Guardian
This reduction, however, simply means that Australia is not clearing as much land as it did in 2005, even while it remains a world hotspot for deforestation. If land use emissions were not included, Australia’s emissions reduction from 2005 to 2023 would only be 1.6% lower. Other analyses have demonstrated that Australia only has just under five years to use up its fair share of the global carbon budget:
Figure: The Guardian Carbon countdown clock. View live figures here.
Therefore, the latest GHG Inventory Report tells us that Australia’s argument that it is making progress towards its 2030 target depends entirely on including land use changes in its accounting. The latest report also demonstrates that while emissions from electricity have reduced substantially as renewable energy increasingly enters the energy system, these emissions are being cancelled out by rises in the other sectors of stationary energy, transport, and fugitive emissions. Furthermore, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and one of the largest exporters of liquefied natural gas. Australia’s exports generate at least 5% of total global emission from all sources, and yet these emissions are not included in the GHG Inventory Report.
The GHG Inventory Reports suggest a number of issues that policy-makers could seek to address. First, while electricity emissions are reducing, Australia is still heavily reliant on dirty energy. The clean energy transition requires policy support to facilitate a rapid investment in grid infrastructure, storage solutions, and distributed generation capability. Second, transport remains an ongoing problem. While a fuel efficiency standard is currently in development, there are concerns the proposed standard could be significantly weakened due to lobbying from the petrol-car lobby. Third, hard-to-abate sectors such as steelmaking, mining, aluminum, cement, fertilisers, and heavy road transport remain challenging. Policy-makers can look to the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative to legislate suitable frameworks and then resource the technologies and pathways available to achieve net zero in these sectors. Finally, as climate-change-related natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, the potential contribution of large-scale bushfires on carbon emissions remains of great concern. The 2019-2020 bushfires were found to more than double Australia’s annual carbon footprint. Policy-makers should look to prioritise fire reduction practices as well as facilitate legislation that helps make communities more resilient to fire, such as updating building standards and creating an Indigenous-led National Cultural Fire Strategy.
As shown above, Australia’s ability to produce timely, reliable, informative greenhouse gas emission reports is impressive. Yet, it must be noted that these reports utilise accounting practices that can obscure the lack of emissions reductions being achieved by the country.
A—Produces timely, comprehensive, valuable reports for the current year
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Robyn Gulliver