Hectares of forest cleared in Australia, 2004-2014. Queensland government data show a far higher rate of land clearing than federal data suggest. Graphic: The Guardian

By Michael Slezak
18 March 2016

(The Guardian) – The latest federal government carbon emissions inventory shows Australia has increased its emissions and has come under fire for allegedly vastly underestimating the amount of land clearing that has occurred, and its associated emissions.

The Quarterly Update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, which counts emissions in Australia up to September 2015, says greenhouse gas emissions from land clearing have fallen to record lows.

But Guardian Australia reported last month that a report commissioned by the Wilderness Society showed a land clearing surge in Queensland since 2012 has been so big that it would create emissions roughly equal to those saved by the federal government’s emissions reduction scheme, where they paid other farmers more than $670m to stop cutting down trees.

Australia net anthropogenic emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector, UNFCCC classifications, 1990-2015. Graphic: Australia Department of the Environment

The amount the Queensland government said was cleared in that state alone was almost twice what the federal government said was cleared nationwide in 2014. Queensland reported that almost 300,000ha were cleared in the 2013-14 financial year, while the federal government says less than 170,000ha were cleared nationwide.

Looking at the emissions arising from land clearing, the federal government’s report says there have been only 10.8m tonnes of C02 emitted in 2014 and 2015, and just slightly more in 2013. But the Queensland figures say that state alone produced 38m tonnes of CO2 from land clearing in 2015, up from 25m tonnes in 2013.

In response to those alleged discrepancies reported by Guardian Australia, the Department of Environment added a new explanatory section to the quarterly report.

It raised seven differences in the ways Queensland and the federal government measure land clearing, and concluded that “it is not appropriate to compare the two data sets directly without adjusting the data for these differences”.

But the report does not explain how those differences could explain such a vastly contrasting result.

“It defies logic. This is a major discrepancy that can’t be brushed off with the same inadequate explanations used so far,” the Wilderness Society’s climate campaign manager, Glenn Walker, said.

“The government “is either using very creative arithmetic or expects us to believe that the rest of Australia has planted enough trees to suck up the equivalent of about 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” he said. “That’s more than the emissions from Australia’s dirtiest coal power station Hazelwood.”

Senator Larissa Waters, the Australian Greens climate change spokeswoman, said: “The Turnbull government is using dodgy numbers so it can allow its big fossil fuel donors to keep polluting while claiming to be meeting its woefully inadequate reduction targets set by Tony Abbott.”

Even with the contested drops in emissions from land clearing, the report shows that emissions have risen.

“In a sign of just how dodgy the accounting behind their climate targets is, the government is claiming to be meeting its 2020 target even though climate pollution is up,” Waters said. [more]

Australia's emissions rising and vastly underestimated, says report


Change in Australia carbon emissions per sector, 2012-2015. Between 2012 and 2015, land-clearing emissions in Australia rose 11 times faster than any other sector. Graphic: The Guardian

By Lenore Taylor
28 February 2016

(The Guardian) – A land-clearing surge in Queensland is set to create additional carbon dioxide emissions in just three years that are equivalent to those the federal government claims it is avoiding by paying other farmers more than $670m to stop cutting down trees, according to a new analysis.

The Queensland land clearing along with weakening land clearing laws in several other states are threatening Australia’s chances of meeting the climate change targets it pledged in Paris last year and raising questions about the Coalition’s Direct Action climate policy.

A new study of Australian tree-clearing by environmental services company CO2 Australia – obtained by Guardian Australia – has quantified the recent blow-out in greenhouse emissions from the weakened laws, after a decade in which declining tree clearing played a key role in Australia meeting its climate change commitments.

The Queensland Labor government wants to repeal laws passed by Campbell Newman’s government that led to the sudden rise in tree clearing, but may not succeed in doing so and is facing fierce resistance from the Liberal National party and others.

Land clearing in Queensland, along with weakening land clearing laws in several other states, is threatening Australia’s chances of meeting the climate change targets it pledged in Paris last year.

Tentative moves by federal environment minister Greg Hunt’s department to assess whether the clearing contravenes federal laws have also prompted a backlash - particularly from his own National party colleagues.

But the CO2 study, commissioned by the Wilderness Society, shows the turnaround in clearing threatens to wipe out emission reductions bought by the Turnbull Government’s Direct Action scheme and jeopardise Australia’s chances of meeting its promise to reduce greenhouse emissions by 26-28% by 2030. [more]

Exclusive: land-clearing surge in Queensland set to wipe out Direct Action gains – report

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