March 03, 2009 | Ronda Jambe

In the interests of disclosure….

Last week I said the gov is planning to cut back on public disclosure requirements for industrial carbon emissions.
Today they replied to my email query, and even sent the discussion paper.
Yes, the period for comment was brief, but closer to 3 weeks than a few days. And yes, it will cut back on some public disclosure requirements, but this is a result of inputs from stakeholders who said the current arrangements are confusing and lead to double counting as energy production gets counted twice if they become inputs to further production downstream.
On the face of it, this seems reasonable. But then gov docs always seem reasonable. And very quickly, it gets beyond my technical capacity to assess. In terms of transparency, I always would go for a bigger serving, with heaps of public education as sauce. If the data will still be collected by the gov, as the discussion paper says, and this is useful to bureaucrats, then why shouldn’t the informed public be able to see it too, as they can distill and pass it along to non-specialists?
The deeper question is how does the shape of our energy usage, production and CO2 become useful public information? What does such education and information look like, and even more important, who educates the public?
As a passionate but easily befuddled member of the public, I know only a few things about Australia’s CO2 emissions:
a) there is a climate emergency
b) Australia is massively and disproportionally dependent on coal for domestic electricity and export income
c) our per capita emissions are among the very highest in the world
d) we are not moving by leaps and bounds into energy efficiency or renewables
But things are not always as they seem on the surface, and maybe this time, the gov is actually getting it right. Below is the reply, which I copy just to avoid perhaps mis-stating their polite argument:
In relation to your concerns regarding public disclosure of greenhouse and energy data, please note that the amendment Bill does not propose removing requirements under the Act to publicly disclose greenhouse gas
emissions or energy consumption information. Neither does the bill change existing requirements that corporations which trigger thresholds must report all greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and energy production.
The amendment bill does propose removing the obligation to publish corporate level energy production data. This is on the basis that publishing corporate level energy production totals will result in public information that is not useable due to double counting of primary and secondary energy production. Energy production information will be
disclosed through Australia’s National Energy Statistics and other sources as identified in the attached consultation paper. Collection of energy production data will remain an important component of the NGER Act to inform government and underpin the National Energy Statistics. The proposed amendment will not affect collection of this information, which will be used to produce publicly available energy production statistics.
A public consultation paper on the proposed amendment to energy production disclosure was released on the 28 January 2009 and the call for submissions on this proposal was open until 17 February 2009. The consultation paper, which outlines the proposed amendment is attached for your information.
If anyone can enlighten me, feel free.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 7:27 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. It may be sad to reply to my own blog, but below is the response I received from a Canberra climate change activist. It supports the value of greater transparency in reporting, and also demonstrates how intelligent and well informed some activists are, to those who might be inclined to dismiss them:
    ‘Effectively what the government is saying is that they will collect the data and then put it in a basement somewhere, because it’s too ‘confusing’. It’s a strange
    argument to make, seeing as the ABS regularly releases very complicated statistics (alongside explanatory notes which explain what should and shouldn’t be interpreted from them). Penny Wong, on the other hand, has made a choice that rather than follow
    this standard practice that she would rather just bury the lot.
    While it’s true that national and state statistics will still be released, one thing that corporate level data has in its favour is that it ties energy and emissions directly to productive units. Releasing this sort of information is necessary to
    inform any discussion about the best way to reduce emissions from those productive units. The immediate answer to their claim about the risk of double counting as a result is this: release net total energy production totals instead of gross. Problem
    I would argue that if they wanted to get rid of confusion, and produce actually useful data, then they should report even more information. If they reported, not just for each corporate unit but also for each major industrial process within each
    corporation, then we would start to have a real picture of the technical challenges we face (and not just unproven business and government statements that ‘transition
    is too costly’).
    We could have the net totals further broken down so that we can see how energy outputs differ from energy inputs. Having the Generic Train Company report that the operation of its trains turns 100TJ of electrical energy into 60TJ of kenetic energy, with 40TJ lost as thermal energy would be very useful to any attempt to
    improve energy efficiency. Done nationally, it would also give an accurate picture of the ‘metabolic’ process of the economy as a whole.
    I think that this is perhaps the very reason why Wong does not want this information released. If people began to see how corporations work, how much they emit and what exactly would be required to reduce these emissions, then they might start to ask some difficult questions. They may even start to ask for direct government
    intervention, as seen recently when executive pay rises in Pacific Brands became public. The big polluters and their lobbyists definitely don’t want this to happen to them, and unsurprisingly, neither does Wong.’

    Comment by ronda jambe — March 5, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  2. The transparency requirements ronda, will no doubt remain all smoke and mirrors and too complex for citizens to understand.
    However, the federal government’s “National Pollutant Inventory” remains in force, whereby all pollutant industries, whose emissions exceed a certain threshold, are required to submit annual pollutant emissions figures to the NPI.
    These figures also indicate which industries are the largest polluters in the nation, by industry or by substances – (minus the fudging of course!)
    Regrettably, these “figures” are provided by a largely self-regulatory industry and are mere stabs in the dark.
    A prime example would be for stack emissions of dioxins. How they derive these estimates is anyone’s guess since the majority of companies are not required to perform independent, analytical stack testing for these seriously hazardous chemicals and if they do, it is once annually or bi-annually despite Australia’s ratification of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
    Then you will find the total nation’s emissions, say for example, carbon monoxide, which strangely, have remained at precisely the same levels each year – an impossibility, I would say, particularly when one is operating an industrial stack. (CO oxidises to CO2).
    One needs to know which pollutants oxidise to CO2 too since we are debating GHGs.
    I will fully understand if you advise that you are none the wiser! Cheers for now.

    Comment by Environmental Impact Statement — March 10, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  3. thanks, the Nat Poll Inventory is too much for me to digest. But the self-regulation, as well as the complexity, is not good practice.
    If statistics can be made understandable for the public, so should pollution. the more complex an issue is, the more resoures need to go into well-designed public communication and feedback encouragement. We really do need to know what pollution we are sending up, and how reliable the reporting is.

    Comment by ronda jambe — March 10, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

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