Environment

Power sector carbon emissions jumped 3.8 million tonnes in 2015: Pitt & Sherry

Australia's greenhouse gases from its power sector jumped by 3.8 million tonnes in 2015, potentially making it harder to meet the country's international promises to cut total emissions.

Pollution from power stations - which account for about a third of Australia's total carbon emissions - was up 2.4 per cent compared with 2014, according to data compiled by Pitt & Sherry and The Australia Institute.

Emissions from electricity production, which was the prime target of the carbon tax, are now 5.1 per cent higher than in June 2014 - just before the scheme was scrapped by the Abbott government:

The rise in emissions is being driven in part by a switch back to coal-fired power as more gas gets diverted to offshore markets. The share of gas in the National Electricity Market, which supplies about 80 per cent of Australia's population, fell to 11.2 per cent in December, its lowest proportion since mid-2010.

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Australia's total emissions rose 1.3 per cent in the year to June 2015, the first full year after the carbon tax's demise, the government reported just before Christmas.

An increase in electricity use is also nudging emissions higher, with demand for power notching the first annual increase since 2010.

A stalling in new renewable energy investments because of political uncertainty over the 2020 Renewable Energy Target has also curbed the rise of wind power. Its share in December was unchanged from a year earlier at 5.7 per cent.

In December, black and brown coal accounted for 75.9 per cent of the NEM's output.

Australia is likely to meet its 2020 target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent of 2000 levels in large part because of surplus credits from a reduction in land clearing, particularly in Queensland and NSW.

The longer-term goal of reducing emissions by 19 per cent of 2000 levels by 2030 - as committed by the Turnbull government at the Paris climate summit late last year - will require an average annual reduction of about 11 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions from now. Compared with 2005 levels, the cut is 26-28 per cent.

That target will be increasingly difficult without a change in policy, particularly towards curbing emissions from the energy sector, Hugh Saddler, Pitt & Sherry's principal consultant, said.

"Australia is still largely dependent on coal for its electricity supply and, assuming electricity demand continues to rise, Australia's carbon emissions will continue to rise," Dr Saddler said.

The 2015 increase in emissions might have been higher but for a slight rise in hydro electricity towards the end of the year.

The extra hydro input, though, will probably be hard to sustain without good rains, particularly for Hydro Tasmania.

"Tasmania ... is now facing a significant challenge as energy storage levels fell to below 24 per cent at the end of December as a consequence of an abnormally dry winter," Pitt & Sherry said in its latest Cedex report.

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