Sunday, December 13, 2009

Climate change: Australia accused of carbon swindle

The Australian government is accused of using tricky accounting practices in arriving at emissions figures that conform to its Kyoto commitments. Critics claim that rather than Australia's carbon emissions decreasing, they have actually increased. This alleged fraud centres on land use.

New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer is currently engaged in a hunger strike protesting land clearing prohibitions that heavily penalise farmers. According to Spencer, halting land clearing has reduced carbon emissions by 87.5 million tons. Since these carbon emissions have value, Spencer is demanding that the government compensate farmers whose land is tied up. The government doesn't want to do this because it has so far managed to claim this emission reduction free of charge. Also, since only a relatively small number of farmers are affected -- as opposed to a huge number of workers in carbon emitting industries -- the protest from farmers is going unheard.

The compensation issue aside, some on the left question whether this 87.5 million ton emission reduction is "real", an unnamed source telling ABC News:

This is all about paper shuffling. It's not about reducing emissions.

I would be suspicious any [accounting] method in that land use sector is tactical to reduce pressure on other emissions.

This Government is not any more committed to doing anything about cutting greenhouse gas emissions than the previous government - and we're not the only country doing it.

There is a catch to using rural land to claim emission reductions:

But figures supplied to the United Nations earlier this year show that between 1990 and 2007, Australia's real carbon emissions actually rose by 82 per cent.

The dramatic increase has mainly been caused by rising emissions from Australia's rural lands, caused by bushfires and drought.

The government chooses not to count emissions resulting from such so called "acts of God", however.

Forestry emissions are also an issue. According to Greens Senator Christine Milne:

Environmentalists have argued for a decade that the Kyoto Protocol rules are flawed because countries can opt to not include their emissions from logging in their accounts.

We have called for full carbon accounting which if adopted would show the massive loss of carbon to the atmosphere through the logging of native forests.

The way forest is currently defined in the Kyoto rules makes no distinction between native forests and plantations.

This means that land conversion (logging native forest to turn into plantation, for example) is not defined as a land use change whose emissions must be accounted for.

On top of this, if an area of forest has been clearfelled it is still counted as forest so long as the country claims an intention to one day grow trees there again.

Currently in Copenhagen, talks are bogged down over moves by Australia and the European Union to continue to hide the full extent of emissions from logging and land use.

In short, arriving at a total for land use related emissions is a very iffy proposition. The left does have a solution, however:

And given the uncertainty, the only "real" emissions - the ones that really needed to be cut - came from the energy, transport and industrial sectors.

Hmm, I thought the left was all for carbon offsets in the form on planting tress and the like. This emphasis on "real" emissions is really odd in that the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2006 has agriculture producing 16.4% of greenhouse emissions, transport 14.4%, industrial processes 5.2% and land use, and land use change and forestry 2.5%. Thus "rural" emissions at 18.9% are second only to energy production. If emissions cuts can be achieved relatively painlessly in rural areas why not go for it? But if this requires farmers' land to be tied up they should be compensated.

Clearly the left would rather attack sectors that more obviously represent evil capitalism. You know, the sectors which must change in order to achieve a top to bottom restructuring of society. Come on, deep down you know forsaking your decadent lifestyle for a cave -- year round temperature 21º; no air-conditioning required -- is the only way to save the planet.

Update: As we all know, there has been a tiny bit of controversy surrounding certain climate change calculations -- temperature change, for example. Calculating carbon emissions looks to be turning into an even greater controversy:

An Australian climate change negotiator at Copenhagen has reportedly said Australia could cut its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 if it could count land use changes.

The way I read it, Australia was already factoring in land use changes. Regardless, Tony Abbott has immediately jumped on this:

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says claims that large emissions cuts could be made by changing land use rules shows Australia does not need an emissions trading scheme.

ABC Radio National has revealed that Australian negotiators at the Copenhagen climate talks are pushing for a rule change to allow the country's emissions to be offset by including reduced emissions in agriculture and forestry.

If any agreement does come out of Copenhagen it'll be so complicated no one will understand it, including politicans and bureaucrats, who will, of course, insist that they know what's going on. Some things never change.


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