Here’s some figures to make you queasy after all that rich Christmas dinner. As was reported recently, Australia’s bold new short-term greenhouse gas reduction target is to reduce carbon emissions by 4% on year 1990 levels by 2020. What does that mean in real terms? Well, according to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, our total emissions in that reference year were 552.6 Mt (million tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e), with 286.4 Mt of that coming from energy generation. In 2006 (the latest inventory year), it was 576.0 Mt, with a whopping 400.9 Mt of that now coming from energy.
So, our world-leading aim is to ‘only’ be emitting 530.5 Mt CO2-e by 2020 — a saving of 22 Mt on 1990 levels. Forgive me if I’m less than impressed.
But in reality, it’s far, far worse than that — actually, ridiculously so.
Why? Go read this news story. To quote Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:
“…$580 million of today’s investment will be used to expand capacity and rail corridors to service the Hunter, the Hunter Valley Coal mines, and of course their connection to the Port of Newcastle.”
The reporter then blandly notes that this investment will more than double the export capacity at Newcastle (New South Wales) from 97 to 200 million tonnes of coal a year.
Hmmmm. Let’s see — that’s an extra 103 Mt of coal being shipped out each year. Now, when you burn a tonne of coal, you yield about 3.6 tonnes of CO2 (since the carbon atom combines with 2 x oxygen atoms). So that’s $580 million of taxpayers money being channeled into a handout to the fossil fuel industry that will result in an additional 371 Mt CO2-e being pumped into the global atmosphere each year.
Oh, but silly me — it’s all heading offshore, so as the cartoon says, it’s no longer our problem. Easy as that! Never mind that this tidy little half-billion buck infrastructure by the Rudd government will ‘offset’ (read: cancel) our measly 2020 savings almost 17 times over…
But wait, there’s more! Actually, this was from earlier in the year, but the wound still smarts when you rub salt into it. In April 2008, ‘Environment’ Minister Peter Garrett gave the green light for a multi-billion dollar three-phase plan to expand the Wiggins Island Coal Terminal in Gladstone (Queensland), such that it will be able to export an additional 84 Mt of coal per year — a decision applauded by the Queensland State Government.
Okay, so that’s another 302 Mt CO2-e released by someone, somewhere, up into the great aerial ocean. But hey, again, it’s for export, so it’s just not our problem. All 371 + 302 = 673 Mt CO2-e of it. It doesn’t matter that these two infrastructure projects, announced in 2008, will result in emissions 17% greater than Australia’s TOTAL CO2-e annual emissions, and cancel out our 4% reduction by 2020 commitment more than 30 times over. Nah, no sweat. It’s all covered by offshore sequestration.
Treasurer Wayne Swan reckons the above stimulus is our ‘best shot’ at avoiding recession. What he doesn’t say is that it’s also our best shot at ensuring deadly climate change. But it’s the economy, stupid! (h/t Matt Mushalik)
So, we’re stuffed, because as Jim Hansen said:
“If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants [or supplying them in Australia's case], those coal trains will be death trains — no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.“
Reduce 22 Mt here, add 673 Mt there. Yet Mr Rudd says this trade-off “…gets the balance right“.
Sigh. I (almost) give up…