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Australia needs stronger limits on pollution

Smoke billows from a power plant in Jilin province/AFP

Smoke billows from a power plant in Jilin province/AFP

CANBERRA, Feb – Newly released national greenhouse gas emissions data shows that Australia needs stronger, not weaker limits on pollution, the Climate Institute, an independent research body, said Wednesday.

The new greenhouse inventory data shows that Australia’s total emissions rose by 1.3 percent in the year from September 2012 to 2013. Emissions excluding land use, land use change and forestry fell 0.3 percent, with the biggest decline in the electricity sector. Emissions from electricity fell by 5.5 percent, or 10 million tonnes.

The data shows that the electricity sector, which is covered by the carbon laws, has seen significant declines in emissions. But this has been offset by increases in the coal and gas sector, deforestation and transportation emissions.

“Electricity emissions continued their significant decline due to renewable energy and energy efficiency policies as well structural economic changes and the carbon price, the latter always intended to become a more major driver over time,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.

“It is mischievous if not misleading of the government to attack the effectiveness of the current carbon laws, when the Environment Department itself recently estimated that the carbon laws will have cut emissions by 40 million tonnes by July 2014. That’s roughly the same as taking half of Australia’s cars off the road for a year — a significant achievement,”he said.

The coalition government had pledged to scrap the carbon tax and the bill has passed the House of Representatives last year. It is expected to pass the Senate after the election of the senators in July this year.

Connor said in the electricity sector, removal of the carbon laws and any weakening in renewable energy policies will see that sector return to greater use of coal fired power, and therefore greater emissions. “The only alternatives to carbon markets are significant new regulatory restrictions, or massively increased government spending through its Emissions Reduction Fund,”he said.

“It is also important to note that sectors not covered by the carbon laws such as transport and deforestation are major growth areas in emissions urgently requiring stronger, not weaker policies.

It is time, for example, for Australia to catch up on global vehicle standards. It is not time to be weakening land clearing regulation,” concluded Connor

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