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Australia needs to sacrifice cows and sheep for Paris too

Everyone is talking about the NEG (National Energy Guarantee) which will supposedly attain the mythical trifecta of cheap, reliable, and planet cooling electricity. In terms of meeting our Paris “commitment” Tom Quirk  wondered how we are doing in other sectors, like farms, cars, rubbish — and whether we had cut emissions there. Well, ho, ho, here’s that report. Thank you, Tom. Looks like a lot of cows and sheep will have to go. Still, we want to stop storms don’t we?

Key points:

With enough bad luck, and poor management, plus some sacrificial lambs on the altar, we might be the only country on Earth that meets its Paris agreement. Rejoice.

This is assuming that our population stops growing and Australia blocks all immigration tomorrow. That’s right, Tom Quirk has not made any allowance for the 250,000 immigrants arriving presently.

These are optimistic best case numbers.



Will Australia make it to Paris 2030?

Guest post by Tom Quirk

In 2005 Australia emitted 608 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 – equivalent greenhouse gases. To achieve a 26 to 28% reduction we must cut emissions to an average of 444 Mt.

Due to accounting changes to land use and forestry, Australia could claim a fall of 104 Mt of CO2 from 2005 to 2012. The emissions from cutting down trees were no longer to be accounted immediately but could be written off over longer periods of years. A most interesting change was for forest fires to be treated as Acts of God and not counted in national emissions. An external issue is whether God is anthropogenic.

Forest and peat fires are a major source of atmospheric CO2. Consider that during the 1997 – 98 El Nino, Indonesia alone was estimated to have produced the equivalent of between 13 – 40% of the annual global fossil fuel emissions and the total estimate for the El Nino was 50% from forest and peat fires.

The changes for Australia are shown in Figure 1 along with the emissions from agriculture. The emissions from agriculture show no changes over the years of land use changes. This may be the result of enteric emissions of methane being some 90% of the agriculture CO2 equivalent emissions.

Emissions, Graph, Australia, by sector, 2018. Paris Agreement.

Figure 1: Emissions for changes in land use and forestry and from agriculture.


The changes in land use and forestry appear to have plateaued from 2012 to 2017. So for this analysis no changes are assumed after 2017. A reassessment would be necessary if there are new government regulations on land use.

The changes in emissions from the sources identified in the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy statistics shows that the only significant reduction in emissions has come from electricity generation apart from land use changes. The trends for the period 2005 to 2017 show a grouping of 3 sources, waste, agriculture and industrial processes with no significant trend. Fugitive emissions have shown a rise for the period 2015 to 2017 and this may be a result of new LNG developments that may further increase these emissions. Finally stationary energy (not electricity) and transport show continuous increases that exceed the decreased emissions from electricity generation. These trends are plotted against average annual emissions for 2005 to 2017 in Figure 2.


Emissions, Graph, Australia, by sector, 2018. Paris Agreement.

Figure 2: Annual trends in megatonnes of CO2 – equiv. Emissions plotted as related to their annual average emissions.


So extending these trends to 2030 will give a measure of the reductions to be faced to meet the target figure of 444 Mt of CO2 – equiv. This can be seen in Figure 3.


Emissions, Graph, Australia, by sector, 2018. Paris Agreement.

Figure 3: Annual emissions in megatonnes of CO2 – equiv. and projections to 2030 – see text below.


From 2005 to 2017, government policies have only led to changes in electricity generation and perhaps land use. The projections here will only look at electricity and agriculture combined with land use.

The trajectory with no further changes leads to total emissions of 553 Mt in 2030, a difference of 109 Mt from the target of 444 Mt. For electricity, the projected fall in emissions is included in the projected total emissions, so the adoption of the NEG target of halving the 2017 electricity generator emissions removes a further 69 Mt of emissions. The final shortfall is then 40 Mt of emissions to close the gap.

The final question is then how will this difference be made to disappear. It seems that further regulation in agriculture may be the direction of government policy. A reduction in sheep and cattle numbers would reduce the methane emissions which at present are about 60 Mt of CO2 equiv. gas and this might then give rise to land use changes with a reduction of emissions with the changes in land use absorbing more CO2.

Government policies have been unsuccessful in reducing emissions while causing substantial domestic and industry damage in the economy. Policies for agriculture will threaten another major revenue stream for the country. We might be better not to finish in Paris unlike the Tour de France.


*All estimates of CO2 emissions mentioned above are “CO2 and Equivalent Greenhouse gases”.

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