Doctors have urged the Morrison government to abandon plans for a gas-led recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, as emissions plunge to their lowest levels in 30 years due to social distancing restrictions.
The latest quarterly update of Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory shows in the year to March 2020, emissions per capita were lower than 1990 levels by 42.9 per cent. The emissions intensity of the economy was 64.2 per cent lower than in 1990.
There was a whopping 79 per cent fall in the amount of jet fuel consumed in the June 2020 quarter, while the amount of petrol used also fell 26.7 per cent. This led to a fall in emissions from liquid fuels of 17.9 per cent.
However there are fears the gains will be shortlived.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions Angus Taylor used question time on Monday to defend a bill that would allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to bankroll new gas projects by re-defining the fossil fuel as "low-emissions technology".
"The path out of COVID-19 is affordable, reliable gas driving jobs [and] investment," Mr Taylor said.
"We know that gas is the perfect partner to intermittent renewables, scientists have said as much."
However Perth GP and Doctors for the Environment spokesman Dr George Crisp said swapping coal for gas would fail to reduce emissions.
"Gas is a fossil fuel like coal, and whilst at the point of emissions it is a little bit lower, the problem is that when you look at the whole of life cycle of gas, leakage even in the order of a couple of per cent actually negates the benefits over coal because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas," Dr Crisp said.
"Gas leaks everywhere down the chain right from extraction right the way through to end use. So it's a real problem in terms of this switch to gas, it's actually not going to reduce emissions very much at all."
Dr Crisp said the emissions achieved by the COVID-19 lockdown were "pretty much what's required on a year-by-year basis for addressing climate change".
"To achieve targets set by Paris that we've agreed to, we're looking at emissions in the order of 7.5 per cent per year, year-on-year. That's pretty much the same as the very temporary emissions reduction we got with the coronavirus slowdown," Dr Crisp said.
Dr Crisp said the pandemic should be used as an opportunity to reduce emissions and address climate change in the long-term.
"It may be regrettable the way it's happened, but now that we're here and we need to look at a social and economic recovery, then the obvious thing to do is do that in an environmentally-friendly way and in a way that addresses our climate targets for the long term," Dr Crisp said.
Dr Crisp was already seeing more patients presenting with diseases linked with climate change.
"It's perhaps a little bit like smoking, you know when people die of heart disease and they're smokers, you can't say it was the smoking that killed them but we can say it made it a lot more likely that they were going to die of heart disease and the same is true of climate change and a whole range of impacts on common diseases we're seeing," he said.
"The thing about climate change is it's a risk multiplier for many diseases so what we actually see is an increase in the background rate of diseases that are already fairly common. So we know that for example with air pollution what we see is more cases of asthma, more cases of heart attacks, more cases of strokes, more cases of diabetes, but of course you can't separate them from the background rate that's already occurring.
"In general practice we see more allergies because we're getting more pollen in the air, because we're getting warmer temperatures, because we're getting a whole range of changes from climate change that are actually increasing the background rate of allergies so the season's longer, starts earlier, it's more severe. But of course you can't say in any one case that's climate change."
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