Summary: The Australian Government has committed to a net Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction target of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, and the Queensland Government to 70% renewable energy by 2032, and 80% by 2035.
In this report, the challenges of transitioning to net zero carbon are explored, together with some actions being taken to achieve these targets.
Energy production and use comprise most of Australia’s and Queensland’s emissions. Initiatives being undertaken in CSIRO’s “Towards Net Zero Mission” and the Queensland Government’s Energy and Jobs Plan are discussed together with the potential of sequestration and the use of offsets and Australian Carbon Credit Units. To make real progress towards global net zero carbon, innovative research, especially in the energy sector, needs to be strongly supported and partnerships with companies of trading partners further developed.
Queensland’s contribution to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions
The Australian Government (AG) has legislated a net GHG emissions reduction target of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 20501.
The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory June 2022 Update shows Australia emitted 486.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent Mt CO2-e with energy making the major contributions. Queensland emissions in 2020 were 159.2 Mt CO2-e with energy being the highest emitting sector.
Table 1 -Annual emissions (Mt CO2-e) year2,3
|Energy – Electricity||157.8||172||49.4|
|Stationary energy excluding electricity||102.6||100.8||25.2|
|Energy – Transport||90.7||93.3||22.1|
|Energy – Fugitive emissions||50.3||53.5||21.6|
|Industrial processes and product use||32.4||31.9||5.8|
|Land Use Change and Forestry||-39.5||-39||12.5|
Categories are consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting guidelines. The Energy sector is made up of different sources which emit GHGs:
- Production of electricity
- Stationary from other direct combustion of fossil fuels in industries such as manufacturing and construction.
- Transport from air, road, rail and shipping transportation.
- Fugitive emissions from the extraction and distribution of coal, oil and natural gas.
These four energy sources of emissions make up 74.3% of Queensland emissions. Agriculture with 19.9 Mt accounts for 12.5%3.
|Large-scale solar PV||4.8|
|Small-scale solar PV||7.4|
In September 2022, the Queensland Government (QG) increased its commitments from 50% renewable energy target by 2050 to 70% renewable energy by 2032, and 80% by 2035. 5
To achieve the targets QG has released the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan6:
- At least 25 GW new and existing renewable energy.
- Gladstone grid reinforcement to support heavy industry to switch to renewable energy and decarbonise their operations.
- All publicly owned coal-fired power stations operating as clean energy hubs by 2035, supported by a legislated Job Security Guarantee for energy workers.
- Two new world-class pumped hydro projects that together could deliver up to 7 GW of long duration storage.
- Around 1500km of new high voltage backbone transmission to move more power around the state. Up to 3 GW of low to zero emissions gas generation for periods of peak demand and backup security.
- A smarter grid to support over 11 GW of rooftop solar and around 6 GW of batteries in homes and businesses.
To address the Energy-Transport sector
- Investing in charging infrastructure and trials to support efficient integration of electric vehicles into the electricity system.
- Rebates towards new electric vehicle purchases.
Exports of energy resources: In addition to Australia and Queensland GHG emissions and the transition to AG and QG targets, it is worthwhile looking at the contributions of major trading partners.
Major markets for Australia’s resources and energy exports in 2021-22 were:-
South Korea 33
The mining sector contributes 13.7% of GDP gross domestic product7.
Global GHG Emissions8: Of the 89 Parties, representing 93 countries and 78.7% of global GHG emissions, who have communicated a net-zero target, the top emitters are
|Party||Net-Zero Target year||Share of Global GHG Emissions (%)|
Australia currently emits 1.22% of global GHG emissions.
Steel production contributes about seven per cent of global GHG emissions. The majority of crude steel is produced through the Blast Furnace-Basic Oxygen Furnace where iron ore is reduced by coke produced from metallurgical coal. Australia is the world’s largest producer of iron ore (53% of world exports) earning 108.9billion dollars from China, 10.3 from Japan, 8.3 from South Korea and 2.8 from Taiwan7. While Queensland has very minor iron ore resources, in 2021-22 Queensland produced 135.4 Mt of metallurgical coal, which accounted for around 90% of Australia’s metallurgical coal production. The vast majority of coal produced in Queensland in 2021-22 (of which around 70% was metallurgical coal ) was exported overseas. In 2021-22, Queensland as the world’s largest seaborne exporter of metallurgical coal (i.e. hard coking + semi-soft coking/ pulverised coal injection), exported 80% of the total volume of the State’s hard coking coal to India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Taiwan and Vietnam, and 94% of the semi-soft/PCI coal to Japan, India, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brazil. Prior to an informal ban on imports of Australian coal, China had been Queensland’s largest export market for hard coking coal9.
World Crude Steel Production – 10 Top Countries10
million tonnes, crude steel production
Steelmakers face international pressure to change their carbon-intensive processes. CSIRO is working with major iron ore producers across a range of relevant areas to develop some of the key technologies that will help get steel to net-zero, from lifting ore grades, to hydrogen for energy and reduction to carbon capture11.
Various technologies will apply at different stages of the transition to low-emission and then zero-emission steel production e.g.
· Direct support for Australian iron ore producers: The Carbon Steel Materials program within CSIRO Minerals Business Unit supports the Australian iron ore industry with laboratories and pilot-scale test facilities to improve product characterisation, processing, and physical/metallurgical assessment. e.g. sintering tests which help miners to improve the iron-ore content of their material, but also to advise on how the iron ore can best be processed11.
· Dry Slag Granulation11: CSIRO technology is currently being commercialised in China with industry partner, Beijing MCC Equipment Research & Design Corporation (MCCE). Dry Slag Granulation harvests blast furnace waste and converts it into a new product to make cement, reducing carbon emissions and water use along the way. The technology has been operating since 2019 producing 20 tonnes of product per hour, in a semi-industrial plant in China11.
Keith Vining, CSIRO’s Group Leader for the Carbon Steel Materials research group says, “Instead of exporting whatever Australia digs up, why not explore how we can process and be selective about our iron ore and turn it into a premium product, using renewable energy.”11
India, is the world’s second largest steel producer, a major importer of Australia’s metallurgical coal and third highest GHG emitter. However, India-Australia Green Steel Partnership, a five-year program funding CSIRO research to support commercialisation of technology, should help reduce GHC in steel production.11
CSIRO’s Towards Net Zero Mission12 is focussing on Australia’s most hard to abate industries by:
- supporting a profitable and sustainable agriculture industry in a low emission world;
- identifying what is required to develop new low emissions steel and iron ore processes.
- identifying what is required to develop sustainable aviation fuel to support the aviation sector.
- helping regions navigate the transition to net zero through new collaborations, analysis, and support.
- expanding Australia’s carbon offset capacity by using and scaling negative emission technologies such as carbon sequestration
In industries like agriculture where emissions will continue to be emitted, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall noted the need for the development and deployment of carbon dioxide removal options including nature-based solutions like afforestation and building soil carbon, as well as engineered solutions like carbon capture and storage13.
In the transition to Net Zero Carbon, the Energy Sector may need to acquire Carbon Credit from other sectors.
The AG carbon credit scheme14 gives an Australian Carbon Credit Unit (ACCU) for every tonne of greenhouse gases(tCO2-e) avoided or stored by registered projects. These credits are purchased by AG and go toward meeting emissions reduction targets or are sold into a private marketplace to businesses wanting to offset their own emissions. An independent review has rejected suggestions it is fundamentally flawed but has made a series of recommendations to improve its transparency and integrity15. The AG has accepted in principle all the recommendations16.
Sequestration potential: As Fitch et al17 report well developed biological technologies with good economic sequestration potential are plantation and farm forestry (32 Mt/year), permanent plantings (16 Mt/year), and soil carbon (5–29 Mt/year by 2050).
- Permanent plantings17 of woody vegetation on non-forested land or previously cleared agricultural forestry, harvested wood products. Large plantings could impact on catchment water flow and resource. Environmental co-benefits could include increased biodiversity and reduced erosion and economic and social co-benefits be associated with regional development and employment.
- Soil carbon17 While land management technology such as improving plant cover and retaining stubble has been adopted to increase productivity it can also increase carbon sequestration in the soil. Fitch et al advocate mechanisms to maintain soil carbon levels be developed with cheaper methods to measure carbon levels to enable verification and monitoring.
While the length of storage of the above biological solutions is estimated to be 25 to 100 years, geological options can be hundreds to millions of years.
- geological storage17 has high potential and offers a very long-term option. Australia could use depleted oil or gas fields or saline aquifers as reservoirs. While the technology for geological storage is well developed, uptake is low and there could be adverse social or environmental impacts e.g. potential CO2 leakage and groundwater contamination or level increase risk; and transportation leakage.
Many engineered solutions (e.g. direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)) have significant sequestration potential but high costs. (DACCS’s cost per tonne of carbon sequestered is $300–$600)17.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage17. Bioenergy has relatively high sequestration potential and good economic potential, 25–38 Mt/year by 2050. With geological storage bioenergy has a storage option of million years. There could be adverse social or environmental impacts with disruption to conventional land use, risk to food security and reduced soil health due to the use of crop residues. But biomass waste streams can be used to generate electricity. Current energy production from biomass accounts for 47% of Australia’s renewable energy production and 3% of total energy consumption.
Agriculture: The Agriculture sector comprises the emissions from livestock, crops, and agricultural soils. In 2020, the sector accounted for 15% of Australia’s GHG emissions of which 4% could be attributed to Queensland. While Agriculture only makes a very minimal contribution when Australia’s contribution of 1.22% to global GHG emissions is considered, it accounted for 12.5% of Queensland GHG emissions in 2020. (Table 1) 3
Ruminant animals emitting methane from enteric fermentation is the main contributor to Queensland’s annual emission for Agriculture18. Asparagopsis seaweed supplements have potentially lowered methane emissions in ruminants by over 80%19.
In the” Low emissions pathways for Queensland agrifood” Final report to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries”20, Battaglia et al estimate re-establishing native forest cover has the greatest abatement potential of 2.5–14 Mt CO2-e/year. Establishing new forests could have 0.3-1.5 Mt CO2-e/year, increasing soil carbon,0.1-1 Mt CO2-e/year, and supplements for grazing animals 2-5 Mt CO2-e/year. Carbon credits could generate new income for landholders by creating by capturing or reducing emissions in their vegetation and soils20.
If mechanisms like the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism were applied to agriculture products, land holders could need the credits for their own market access20.
Land Restoration Fund21: The QG established the Land Restoration Fund (LRF) with a $500 million investment into carbon farming projects that produce ACCUs plus demonstrated additional environmental, economic, social and First Nations co-benefits. The QG purchases the premium ACCUs which the LRF may choose to trade to enable funding for further carbon farming projects or surrender them to support the QG’s emission reduction targets.
Blue carbon opportunities in Queensland. how much and where? was a pilot program included in the LRF’s $500 million fund22,23. The seagrass meadows and mangrove forests within the Great Barrier Reef’s coastal ecosystems were estimated to store over 111million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e ) and a total of 256 Mt CO2-e could be sequestered through techniques such as reinstating tidal exchange and removing tidal barriers in ~90,000 ha throughout Great Barrier Reef catchments.
Carbon farming activities21 earn ACCUs by
- sequestering carbon (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) by storing it in plants and soil, or
- avoiding the release of GHG emissions through better management of fire, livestock, and fertiliser use.
Methods eligible for LRF projects21 are:
- Agriculture methods focused on reducing emissions from things like fertilizer use or the enteric fermentation from ruminant animals like cattle. Agricultural systems can also sequester carbon storing carbon in soil.
- Vegetation methods regrowing or not clearing native vegetation.
- Savanna burning methods focused on reducing dry-season wildfires, which release potent GHGs like nitrous oxide and methane.
The LRF has several projects contracted across the state to create regional jobs, provide habitat for threatened species and improve the health of the land and waterways, with environmental, socio-economic and first nation benefits. e.g.
Beef and Conservation for the Future Project24: Instead of re-clearing mature vegetation on prime agricultural land at the head of the Burnett River, Central Queensland, 1,544ha is being retained for permanent forest. Also, where regrowth has started to occur, but has not reached maturity, that area is to be protected and nurtured to regenerate to a mature ecosystem. The project will improve water quality runoff to the Great Barrier Reef through the reduction of sediment and nutrients via timed, managed grazing practices and installation of new fences to reduce grazing pressure around creeks, in addition to generating ACCUs for sale.
The QG has established a LRF Approved Adviser Program25 aimed at creating a network of experienced Advisers throughout Queensland by training and approving professional Advisers. To assist landholders with carbon farming and LRF advice, a public registry of qualified Advisers is held on the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority website,
While measures such as sequestering carbon and ACCUs are important if Australia and Queensland are to meet their targets, to make real progress towards global net zero carbon, innovative research, especially in the energy sector, needs to be strongly supported and partnerships with companies of trading partners further developed.
– Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser
- Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: June 2022, Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
- Queensland’s renewable energy target | Department of Energy and Public Works (epw.qld.gov.au)
- Department of Industry, Science and Resources, Commonwealth of Australia Resources and Energy Quarterly December 2022.
- Chubb, I., Bennett, A., Gorring, A., Hatfield-Dodds, S., 2022, Independent Review of ACCUs, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Canberra, December. CC BY 4.0. gov.au/publications.
- Fitch P, Battaglia M & A Lenton (2022). Australia’s carbon sequestration potential – Summary report. CSIRO and the Climate Change Authority, Canberra
- LOW EMISSIONS TECHNOLOGY STATEMENT 2021 Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
- Battaglia M, Leith P, Bruce J, Ricketts K, Brodie S and Strachan M (2022) Low emissions pathways for Queensland agrifood. Final report to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. CSIRO.
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