Maria Atkinson

By Maria Atkinson…

Dear Prime Minister, I am writing to alert you to serious flaws in Federal Government data on emissions from buildings and to request urgent action to establish accurate data, to ensure Australia’s carbon pollution reduction responses are soundly based.

My specific concern is that inaccurate data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics (ABARE) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which in turn is based on inaccurate methodology adopted by the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO), has been used as the basis of calculations which suggest buildings are responsible for 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet the United Nations and many other international authorities put buildings’ contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions in the order of 40 per cent or higher.

The data in question appears to date back to an erroneous assumption adopted in the 2002 report by George Wilkenfeld to the AGO: Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 1990, 1995 and 1999, End Use Allocation of Emissions, Volume 1. which purports to categorise emissions by industry sector. These categories were subsequently adopted by the AGO.

It appears that the error occurred when Wilkenfeld allocated emissions based on ANZSIC subdivisions as used by the Bureau of Statistics and ABARE. In short it appears a decision was made to allocate emissions from property services, along with other service industries, to a commercial and services’ category, which has since been taken to represent wholly and exclusively the occupation of buildings, while other categories do not.

The result of this decision is that companies categorised under “manufacturing”, including businesses in the food, beverages, tobacco, textiles, clothing, footwear, machinery and equipment, other manufacturing, wood, paper, printing, chemical, rubber, plastic products, iron, steel, aluminium smelting, other non-metallic mineral products including petroleum and natural gas sectors, were all assumed to not occupy buildings.

Based on ABARE and ABS data, and the flawed categorisation adopted by the AGO, last year the Centre for International Economics produced a report which cited emissions from buildings at 23 per cent of Australia’s emissions – a figure which has since been repeated in other reports, including the Draft Report by Professor Garnaut.

The 23 per cent figure was calculated by Professor Alan K Pears, who has explained that he used the method of dividing total 2005 emissions for Australia, by the total emissions for “commercial and services”, minus energy consumption by appliances.

As Professor Pears recently agreed, the assumption that “commercial and services” refers wholly and exclusively to building energy consumption is flawed in that:

(A) Businesses in the sectors excluded under “commercial and services” employ 29 per cent of Australians, therefore the energy consumed by business accommodation for a third of all Australian businesses by employment are not included in Australian modelling.

(B) Industrial processes primarily consume low emission energy such as natural gas whereas the lighting and cooling of buildings uses high emission energy, namely electricity. A larger proportion of emissions by end-use for manufacturers and other industry are generated by their buildings.

(C) A higher proportion of the energy consumed by commercial buildings is by the base building (that is heating, cooling and lighting) than by appliances when compared to residential buildings. Wilkenfeld’s 2002 assessment of 1999 commercial sector greenhouse gas emissions from commercial buildings concluded that 79 per cent of emissions related to heating, cooling and lighting. This compares to around 60 per cent of the emissions from residential building being attributable to appliance use.

Therefore, in addition to wrongly showing residential buildings as consuming more energy than commercial buildings, the error is exaggerated when appliances are removed from the totals.

It is almost certain that commercial buildings in Australia are responsible for a greater share of total greenhouse gas emissions than residential buildings. Our estimate is that energy use by commercial base buildings alone – through heating, cooling and lighting – is as high as an additional 16,000,000 tCO2e.

This has been wrongly allocated in Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and I believe equates to commercial base buildings being responsible for an additional 10 per cent of total Australian greenhouse gas emissions above that currently attributed to the sector.

Until Australia has a more accurate understanding of the total greenhouse has emissions by buildings on which to base an assessment of effective low cost abatement opportunities, the focus of abatement strategies is missing the least cost abatement opportunity available from buildings and energy efficiency.

I therefore respectfully request that you immediately commission accurate modelling of emissions by Australian buildings based on actual end-user information.

This is essential if Australia is to achieve the fastest, lowest cost outcomes in terms of national greenhouse emissions reductions

In a further note Maria Atkinson added: In George Wilkenfeld’s report to the Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment in February 2008, he found that commercial buildings in 2005 were responsible for 17.7 per cent of energy use emissions compared to 17.6 per cent for residential buildings.

Based on the relative growth in commercial building energy use from 1990 to 2005, and energy as a share of total emissions the following conclusions could be reached:

1) In 2009 non-residential buildings will have grown to 13.25 per cent of national emissions.

2) In 2009 residential buildings will have grown to 11.68 per cent of national emissions.

3) By 2020 non-residential buildings will contribute around 15.47 per cent of Australia’s emissions.

4) By 2020 residential buildings will contribute 10.87 per cent of Australia’s emissions.

Therefore a 50 per cent reduction in commercial building energy use reduces Australia’s total emissions in 2020 by 7.7 per cent.

This is a conservative estimate, given that Wilkenfeld also found (Page 27) “that there is a high probability that ABARE misallocated some of the electricity use in the commercial sector to the residential sector in the period 2003-2005.”

Do you have a response? Contact editorial@thefifthestate.com.au for your say on this issue or any others you have in mind.