Transport emissions rose 12 per cent in three months

Transport emissions rose more than 12 per cent in the last three months of 2021 as lockdown restrictions eased across the country, while Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased as renewable electricity generation continued to grow.

But experts warn that without serious climate policy Australia will struggle to hit its target of net-zero by 2050.

Transport emissions have increased by more than 12 per cent in the last three months of 2021, as people return to life post-lockdown.Credit:Janie Barrett

Analysis by environmental consultants Ndevr, using published and projected data, show the country’s emissions in 2021 were 498.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent lower, or 1.1 per cent, than the previous year. The research attributed this to an increase in renewable electricity generation in the electricity sector.

While Tasmania was the first state to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables in 2020, the Ndevr update found South Australia passed the 77 per cent mark last quarter. NSW and Victoria passed the 30 per cent mark of renewable energy electricity generation in the final three months of last year.

Matt Drum, Ndevr’s managing director, warns these emissions figures will like increase in the coming months driven by a lack of climate policy, the war in Ukraine pushing world leaders to abandon Russia’s energy market, increasing coal prices and people adjust to life post-pandemic.

“We have made a commitment of net-zero by 2050, but we need mechanisms in place and a plan in place to demonstrate some will and some action to hit those interim targets,” he said. “We don’t want to get to December 30, 2049 and then start to try to reduce emissions. It’s a work in progress and we need some action and some intervention.”

“Under policy setting, there is little evidence to suggest we can [meet the net-zero by 2050 targets]. But I am hopeful.”

“Under policy setting, there is little evidence to suggest we can [meet the net-zero by 2050 targets]. But I am hopeful.”

The research also found the pandemic impacted emissions since June 2020, but had bounced in the last three months of 2021, increasing by 12 per cent to the previous quarter, as interstate and international borders reopened. The transport sector is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gases, producing 17.5 per cent of emissions.

Senior Researcher for Climate Solutions at the Climate Council Tim Baxter said part of lowering transport emissions was also looking at how to make cities more livable, how public transport could be more accessible and increasing the uptake of electric vehicles. But he said governments and businesses also had a role to play, with the latter already making significant changes, including earlier this year when energy giant Origin announced it would close Australia’s largest coal-fired power station seven years early, saying the rapidly changing energy market had hammered its viability.

“While we saw an emission reduction through the COVID lockdown, that isn’t the type of emission reduction we need to solve climate change,” he said. “There was a temporary drop [in emissions] as people were shut away in their homes, but that is not climate action. We need solutions to replace the uses of fossil fuel everywhere they occur in our economy.”

The new data comes weeks after the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found the world was not on track to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, the more ambitious Paris Agreement target, as the window to achieving the goal is closing fast.

In the battle to reduce the impacts of climate change, every tenth of a degree matters and is directly correlated to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released. The IPCC report shows that though anthropogenic emissions were at their highest rate in history over the past decade, government policies around the world had begun to slow their growth.

The report also noted that the first step towards limiting global warming was immediate international action to massively reduce emissions by replacing fossil fuel energy with renewables, improving energy efficiency measures and electrifying households, industry and transport as fast as possible.

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