Greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s biggest polluters on the rise

carbon polluters
Eight of the top 10 largest polluters increased their greenhouse gas emissions during the past financial year. Photo: Fairfax Media

March 4, 2016 — Greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s biggest companies are on the rise.

Eight of the top 10 largest polluters increased their greenhouse gas emissions during the past financial year, according to a new analysis.

Overall the federal government’s Clean Energy Regulator says that reported direct emissions were up 2 per cent in the year to June 2015, when compared to the previous 12 months.

An Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) analysis of that data – which was released late on Friday – found that big energy players continue to dominate the top 10, prompting the green group to call for a government plan to close the dirtiest coal-fired power plants.

The ACF said energy giant AGL was the biggest polluter in the country, with its greenhouse gas emissions almost doubling from 2013-14, after it purchased more coal-fired power plants in NSW. AGL has pledged to close all its coal power plants by 2050.

The ACF analysis combined both direct emissions from industrial activity and indirect emissions created by electricity consumption.

On that measure Energy Australia and GDF Suez, which both own giant brown coal power plants in Victoria, came in second and third on the ACF top 10 list.

They were followed by mining giant Rio Tinto, Origin Energy, power generation company Stanwell, Alcoa, CS Energy, another miner Glencore, and gas and oil company Woodside.

“All but two of these 10 companies polluted more in the last year than in the previous one,” ACF President Geoff Cousins said.

Mr Cousins said that while the federal government had said it was meeting its climate targets, “there is clearly something wrong with those targets if they can be met while pollution is rising”.

“If you listen to the federal government you’d be forgiven for thinking Australia’s pollution levels were decreasing, when in fact Australia’s [total] pollution increased by 1.3 per cent in 2014-15.”

National data has shown that last year Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose for the first time in a decade. A separate analysis by the advisory firm RepuTex earlier this month suggested that national emissions would continue to rise until 2030 on current trends and policies.

In July 2014 the Coalition repealed Australia’s national carbon price. It was replaced by the Coalition’s direct action climate plan, which pays companies and farmers to cut greenhouse gases and sets emissions limits on major polluters.

Overall Australia has pledged internationally to cut its emissions by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by the end of the decade. Under the recent Paris climate agreement Australia has also promised to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 by 2030.

To meet its 2020 target, analysts such as RepuTex say Australia will largely rely on a tranche of bonus carbon credits it has received under international accounting rules for beating an earlier, less stringent emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol.

Mr Cousins urged the federal government to close coal-fired power stations “in phases” starting with the highest polluting plants. He said affected communities should be helped with the transition and comprehensive plans would be needed to rehabilitate the sites of closed power plans and mines.

“Australia’s energy sector is crying out for federal government leadership to help the industry make the transition to a zero-pollution future,” he said.

Some major players in the over-supplied electricity market have also voiced support for some form of market intervention – such as emission standards for power plants – including AGL and Origin.

Australian National University climate economics academic Frank Jotzo​ also recently proposed an auction system to help close the highest polluting brown coal power plants, with the costs covered by a levy imposed on the remaining coal-fired electricity generators.

by Tom Arup | The Sydney Morning Herald