Tracey Ferrier
(Australian Associated Press)


Australia has recorded a drop in its carbon emissions on the back of the pandemic, lower coal production and more renewable energy in the national grid.

In the year to June, emissions were down by 2.1 per cent

That was driven by lower outputs from power generation and reduced emissions from transport during a year of frequent lockdowns and little travel.

One of the most important factors driving the long-term decline in carbon emissions was the shift away from coal for power generation, the June quarterly update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory said.

The report noted an overall decrease in coal production of 6.8 per cent over the year.

Agricultural emissions were up 4.9 per cent due to graziers restocking their properties after recent drought conditions ended.

Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said the installation of solar systems, driven by the states, territories and households, was bringing down emissions in the electricity sector.

He hit out at the federal government’s new national gas infrastructure plan, which aims to lock in supply for households and manufacturers for east coast gas out to 2040. At least one new gas basin will need to be brought online before 2030 to meet projected demand.

“Expanding and opening up new massive fossil fuel basins will only see Australia’s emissions increase at a time when the rest of the world is shifting away from coal, oil and gas,” Mr Baxter said on Tuesday.

“Following the pathway that underpins the federal government’s new gas plan will put us on track for a world that is a catastrophic 3.5 degrees hotter. This is an unthinkable future.”

Greenpeace campaigner Glenn Walker said Australia had to move away from coal-fired power this decade.

“Closing coal-burning power stations by 2030 and replacing them with renewable energy backed by batteries is the fastest and most effective way for Australia to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

A spokesperson for Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the Morrison government was “acting in a practical, responsible way to reduce emissions while preserving Australian jobs and taking advantage of new opportunities for industries and regional Australia”.

Australia’s emissions have declined 22.8 per cent since their peak in the year to June 2007.

Emissions to June this year were 20.4 per cent below 2005 levels – the baseline year for Australia’s 2030 target under the Paris climate pact.

Australia faced heavy international criticism at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow about a month ago, most notably for refusing to follow other nations and ramp up its six-year-old 2030 emissions target.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the conference Australia would stick to its pledge to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, but noted a 35 per cent drop is expected by then.

The conference ended with a call for all countries to return to the negotiating table in 2022 with stronger 2030 targets, in order to keep alive the hope of capping warming at 1.5C.