GFC provides temporary relief from rising greenhouse emissions

A new report shows the Global Financial Crisis has had a small dampening affect on greenhouse gas emissions with energy use down in Australia’s eastern mainland states in 2009. It also showed energy use varies radically from state to state. The report by non-profit international body The Climate Group shows annual emissions were 5.3 million tonnes lower in 2009 than the previous year across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. This represents a fall of 1.8 per cent and followed a rise in emissions of 1.3 per cent in 2008.

Now entering its fourth year, The Climate Group’s Greenhouse Indicator Annual Report (pdf) tracks greenhouse emissions in Australia from coal, natural gas and petroleum. The Climate Group tracks emissions on a weekly basis across the four states and provides useful real time information for policy makers, media and the general public. The 2009 annual report shows a decrease from 2008 but is not uniform across the states. Emissions declined considerably in South Australia (4.2 percent) and NSW (3.1 percent) while barely changing in Queensland (1.1 percent) and Victoria (0.5 percent).The reasons differed from state to state. In Victoria most of the decrease was due to emissions reductions in both gas‐fired electricity generation and use of petroleum. This was counteracted by an increase in emissions from coal‐fired generators. In NSW and Queensland, coal-fired generators led the reduction while emissions from gas-fired generators rose a staggering 176 percent due to the commissioning of new stations. In SA gas-fired generators led the reduction.

The use of petroleum decreased across the states except in South Australia. The reductions came despite population growth in each of the states, and growth in Gross State Product in each state. Again with petroleum-based products, results were different across the states. Diesel sales were up across all
states except Victoria. Petrol sales fell in Victoria and Queensland (where the fuel subsidy ended this year), remained the same in NSW and increased in South Australia. Another Climate Group report shows petroleum emissions declined for the whole of Australia between October 2008 to September 2009.

Electricity use was also down 1.9 percent across the four states. Coal usage was slightly down but still represents a whopping 87.8 percent of all scheduled electricity generation. Gas is responsible for 9.3 percent and renewables is still a paltry 2.8 percent (up just 0.1 percent in 12 months). Demand fell 2.0 percent in Victoria and 1.2 percent in NSW. Demand rose 1.5 percent in Queensland and 0.1 percent in SA. Victoria has an unhealthy reliance on higher emitting brown coal which rose 1.1 percent balanced out by the 27 percent decrease in gas-fired power stations.

2009 was the second warmest year on record in Australia and the years 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record. As the Bureau of Meteorology said these trends are “consistent with the background of global warming”. The higher temperatures had good and bad aspects. There was less demand for heating over winter but more demand for cooling over summer. Demand in the national electricity market for the winter of 2009 was 3.4 per cent less than the winter of 2008. The summer of 08/09 saw demand increase by 1.7 per cent from 07/08.

The report said all states recorded a growth in Gross State Product (GSP) despite the GFC. It says “growth rates were reasonably low compared with previous years, and this would certainly have relieved upward pressure on emissions levels.” As the economy recovers, emissions are likely to increase substantially in the absence of any meaningful government action to throttle them.

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