Monday, July 11, 2011

Government's carbon skeleton

If there are any undisclosed details left for tomorrow's carbon tax announcement, taxpayers can be sure Australia's dirtiest secret, that the government is one of Australia's largest, growing greenhouse gas emitters, won't be included.

Since 1998 the federal government has documented its energy use in the Australian government's operations report that quietly details its annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest 2007-08 report shows that despite her anti-greenhouse gas rhetoric, Julia Gillard runs one of the biggest emitters in the country with the federal government's carbon footprint amounting to 2.8 million tonnes in that year alone.  To put the federal government's emissions into perspective, its reported emissions parallel those of the Australian operations of international oil company Exxon Mobil.

But the government's reported data excludes key sources of emissions such as public sector employee flights and taxis, as well as Defence Department fuel used outside Australia.

Based on my conservative calculations, the combined emissions of flights and defence force fuel adds another 700,000 tonnes, taking the government's total footprint to at least 3.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.  Compared with an equivalent calculation for the 2001-02 financial year, the government's emissions increased during that time by 300,000 tonnes or nearly 10 per cent.

Under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme, Australia's largest emitters report their greenhouse gas emissions, which is converted into the equivalent volume in carbon dioxide, providing the basis for the carbon tax companies will pay.

Based on NGERS reported data a carbon footprint of at least 3.5 million tonnes would rank the federal government as Australia's 30th largest emitter.

More than half the government's emissions are directly sourced from electricity consumption and they reach 70 per cent with international and domestic flights.  Most of the remaining emissions result from burning defence force fuel.  Removing the defence component and replicating the federal government's carbon footprint on an emissions-tonnage-per-dollar basis calculates the carbon footprint of local, state and federal government to about 9.5 million tonnes.

A footprint this size ranks just outside the nation's top 10 emitters and would squeeze big government's emissions between the emissions of Woodside Petroleum and brown coal electricity generator Loy Yang.

The government's numbers show that it's not changing its behaviour, despite it imposing a carbon tax to drive change in organisations and households that have much smaller carbon footprints than its own.

Instead, the federal government should at least be leading by example instead of perfecting the lingo of ''do as I say, not as I do''.

But the evidence shows otherwise.  In the two years of purchasing expensive renewable electricity, the federal government offset 156,000 tonnes of electricity emissions, but concurrently increased overall consumption by 216,000 tonnes.  The government's overall consumption of electricity continued to rise during the noughties and spiked considerably after the 2005 financial year when the government introduced a more accurate reporting system.  In that timeframe, total emissions consumed by public sector employees were 22.8 tonnes, whereas Australians averaged 15.3 tonnes.

Part of the reason the government may not be changing its behaviour is because the Gillard government has excluded itself from being hit with a direct carbon tax bill.  But the government will still have to pay for the cost of rising electricity prices for the carbon tax it imposes on other large emitters.  That price will then flow through in increased prices to final consumers, whether they are households, businesses or government.  Similarly, even without a direct carbon tax on petrol, fuel prices will rise through non-petrol industry business inputs that will also increase defence fuel costs.

As a result, the cost of running government will also go up as the carbon tax price increases annually.  Considering taxpayers finance government, it doesn't take sophisticated Treasury modelling to figure out who'll pay for the federal government's carbon emissions hypocrisy.

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