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Australia's debt to the world greater given our 'real' carbon emissions

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

New data revealing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than reported means pressure is on the Federal Government to go beyond current commitments toward global climate action, writes professor Jeremy Moss.

THE RECENT Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) meeting in Egypt must ultimately be judged a failure.

While the inclusion of loss and damage in the final deal was a step forward, we can’t ignore that after nearly 30 years of COP the world still can’t agree to phase out fossil fuels as part of the agreements. 

The 636 representatives of the fossil fuel industry who attended would be pleased with this outcome. Representatives from the fossil fuel industry outnumbered some countries' delegates ten to one.

Australia’s Federal Government will claim it as a success. However, new data revealing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than reported means pressure is on to go well beyond current commitments.

Despite praise by U.S. envoy John Kerry on Australia’s climate "u-turn" for the Albanese Government’s commitment to a 43 per cent emission reduction target by 2030, after ten years of inaction, much more will be expected of Australia to play our part in preventing global climate breakdown.   

When we hear the Government talk up its climate credentials, we need to bear in mind new data released by ClimateTRACE this week which shows that Australia’s domestic emissions were likely to have been 620 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e) in 2021 — a figure more than 20 per cent higher than we reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 488 Mt CO2-e

Climate Justice Project describes the tracker thus: 

'The new emissions tracker ClimateTRACE uses satellite monitoring of more than 70,000 sites worldwide to produce real-time, facility-level #globalemissions inventories. The tracker, produced by a non-profit coalition, was launched by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at COP27 in Egypt.'

This discrepancy by Australia is equivalent to roughly twice the volume of emissions from the agriculture sector of 77 Mt CO2-e.

Worse still is the continued contribution made by the fossil fuel export industry. Being one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap tax-payer-subsidised fossil fuels is a major contribution to climate change.

No amount of "arms dealer defences" from governments and big corporations can mask the fact that supplying fossil fuels is a crucial part of the carbon equation and ought to be allocated some share of the blame.

In Australia’s case, the emissions from exported fossil fuels are double our domestic emissions and they have been rising steadily over the last five years. Those emissions are bigger than the emissions of the UK.   

So, where does this leave us? 

Firstly, we need to properly measure and account for all of our actual domestic emissions to combat our contribution.

The higher level of emissions found by ClimateTRACE also means our debt to the world is greater, especially in regard to the finance we ought to be providing to our struggling Pacific neighbours who face existential threats from climate change.  

It also means that thinking we can just ramp up some domestic emissions reduction measures while continuing to make it cheaper and easier for others to burn fossil fuels is no longer credible.

Australia and other countries in this position – Norway, Canada, USA – can’t keep turning up to COP meetings and claim to be climate champions when they continue to support cheap fossil fuel production.

Similarly, banks that finance mines and associated infrastructure must also bear some of the responsibility. Australia’s Big Four banks have loaned coal, oil and gas projects over $44 billion since 2016 despite having net-zero pledges.  

What direct emissions did that funding cause? Almost zero, yet it is a huge contribution to climate change. 

Real global leadership on this issue means full acknowledgement of our actual contribution and doing something about it.

To be truly meaningful, our "net-zero" commitments ought to include the full range of emissions as well as "net-zero contributions from exports".  


Jeremy Moss is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of New South Wales and author of the book Carbon Justice: 'The Scandal Of Australia's Biggest Contribution To Climate Change'. You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyMoss25.

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