Thirst for electricity threatens Australian targets

February 26, 2008 (Canberra Times) – Australia’s rapidly escalating electricity consumption remains the biggest risk to meeting its Kyoto treaty targets, a new Federal Government report warns. A Department of Climate Change analysis of national greenhouse emission trends estimates Australia’s emissions from electricity use will increase 59 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.

Despite use of renewable energy doubling to 20 per cent of the national electricity mix by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electricity are projected to rise from 1990 levels of 129 million tonnes a year to 204 million tonnes.

The report says Australia is currently on track to meet its Kyoto target of 108 per cent of 1990 emission levels, but warns strong growth in electricity demand remains the biggest risk to achieving this target.

Electricity demand is projected to “grow strongly” over the next two years, with carbon emissions reaching a peak of 207 million tonnes in 2009. By 2020, this should decline by 3 per cent to 200 million tonnes, as renewable energy provides 20 per cent of electricity generation.

The report estimates use of black coal to generate electricity will decline from 55 per cent in 2005 to 46 per cent in 2020. Brown coal’s share of generation will drop from 22 per cent to 18 per cent.

Federal Minister for Climate Change and Water Penny Wong said new projections in the report, 2007: Tracking to the Kyoto Target, showed the Rudd Government’s energy policies would trigger “much greater emissions reductions in the longer term” than were forecast under the Howard government.

“The last report card, in 2006, had Australia tracking at 1 per cent over our Kyoto target. This analysis shows the Rudd Government has Australia right on target.”

She said the Government’s drive to ensure 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply was provided by renewable energy by 2020 would reduce emissions “by an extra four million tonnes annually”.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate change campaigner Tony Mohr said the report showed Australia “still has some way to go” in reducing greenhouse emissions.

“It’s fine that we’re still on track to meet our Kyoto target but the figures aren’t showing a big enough difference in emission levels to claim we’re really getting serious about climate change.”

The figures indicated fugitive emissions from coal mines and oil and gas exploration were projected to increase by roughly 80 per cent by 2020.

“That is a huge increase and shows we are still lagging far behind. There have been lots of trials and technologies to deal with fugitive emissions, but little follow through. We really must be striving for bigger changes.”

Australian Greens climate change spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said the report card showed an increased commitment to renewable energy could achieve significant cuts in emissions. It proved ” sensible, large-scale policies” and “bold programs to shift priorities from roads to rails, and to stop old growth logging, would see Australia’s emissions trajectory turn around and start heading downwards”.

The report estimates transport emissions will rise by 67 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020, with growth in urban road freight responsible for much of this.

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