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Australia's emissions fell 3% in year to June amid Covid shutdown

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 3% in the year to June due to the Covid-19 shutdown, the ongoing impact of drought

and an influx of cheap solar and wind power, according to government figures.

The government said it meant Australia had beaten its international 2020 target – widely regarded among experts as an unambitious goal.

Experts said much of the fall in emissions over the year were unrelated to federal government action.

The quarterly update on emissions released on Monday showed the pandemic had caused a sharp drop in transport emissions of 6.7% over the year to June as there were fewer cars on roads, and passenger flights dropped to almost nil in the early months of this year.

The ongoing effects of drought caused a 3.7% drop in agricultural emissions, with farms carrying less livestock and using less fertilizer.

Electricity emissions were down 4.3%, largely due to the construction of wind and solar plants commissioned to meet the national 2020 renewable energy target. The target was filled last year and the federal government did not replace it, but the states are increasingly backing clean energy.

But emissions continued to increase from stationary energy, which includes the manufacturing, construction and commercial sectors. They were up 3.1%, mostly due to increases in the production of liquified natural gas for export. A large part of that comes from Queensland’s massive LNG export industry.

The energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, said Australia’s emissions in the year to June of 513.4m tonnes were the lowest level since 1998.

He said the government had beaten its 2020 emissions target, a 5% cut below 2000 levels, by 459m tonnes of CO2. This is a cumulative figure, calculated compared with where Australia’s emissions were relative to targets across the years 2008 and 2020.

The government has said it could claim these 459m tonnes as “carryover credits” against its 2030 target under the Paris agreement. Australia is the only country proposing to do this and the plan has been heavily criticized by other countries.

Scott Morrison said in a speech to the Business Council of Australia this month that he now believes the government may not need to use these credits. The latest government emissions projections, released in December last year, suggested it would miss the 2030 target without them. New projections are due next month.

Prof Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at Australian National University, said: “These reductions in emissions are almost entirely due to the competitiveness of renewable energy sources and to circumstances that have nothing to do with federal government policy.”

Australia’s levels of emissions can be communicated in a variety of ways. Large emissions savings from a fall in land clearing in the past two decades also influence them.

The government’s data shows that if those land-use changes are excluded emissions from other sectors of the economy have gone up slightly since 2005 – the baseline year against which national emissions targets for 2030 are measured.

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