Today’s headline in The Age, one of Australia’s major newspapers, is Power pollution plunges. The article notes that the introduction of a price on carbon (currently $23/tonne) may have contributed to a fairly sharp drop in emissions intensity (i.e., the amount of of CO2 emitted per unit power generated). The article is accompanied by the following graph:
There is some interesting debate in the article concerning the underlying reasons; in addition to the carbon tax, there has also been an overall decline in power consumption, which may have had an indirect effect on emissions intensity by permitting generators to turn off old and particularly polluting plants.
The decline in emissions intensity can only be considered good news. The reality of this decline also provides an interesting counterpoint to the intense and fact-free scare campaign that preceded introduction of the carbon tax. It remains to be seen how public opinion will evolve over this issue, although one of the individuals involved in that earlier relentless campaign is presently in considerable trouble over remarks so tasteless that even his long-time sponsors withheld advertising on his radio show.
However, this welcome decline in emissions intensity should not obscure the fact that Australia’s emissions are still among the highest in the world as I showed earlier. The graph below, reproduced from that earlier post, puts our polluting record into a global context:
We are still not doing much better than India, although we beat Botswana and Cambodia. (Note that the axis in this graph is in g/kWh whereas The Age reports t/MW, and note that this graph is for the country as a whole whereas The Age reports Victoria only. This explains the different units and slight divergence of values. Note also that the values in this graph are slightly older; see original post for details.)
So the sky hasn’t fallen in.
We are cutting emissions intensity without any apparent harm to the economy.
But we have a long way to go to catch up with the other 135 countries that generate power more cleanly than Australia.