Emissions from gas and oil mining in Australia have ballooned by 20% in five years, new analysis of the federal government’s safeguard mechanism reveals.

Since safeguard mechanism reporting began in 2016-17, total emissions from facilities covered by the mechanism have blown out by more than 9 million tonnes, a 7% increase.

The analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation reveals the ten highest-polluting companies under the safeguard mechanism – a scheme that imposes virtually no obligations to reduce emissions on the 215 facilities that produce 28% of Australia’s climate pollution.

These are the top ten primary companies that own facilities covered by the safeguard mechanism.

These ten companies are responsible for 362 million tonnes of climate pollution – more than half the total emissions reported under the safeguard mechanism from 2017 to 2021.

“Far from cutting emissions, our analysis shows the safeguard mechanism is facilitating an increase in climate-heating emissions from Australia’s biggest polluters,” said ACF’s lead investigator, Annica Schoo.

“The safeguard mechanism and the so-called emissions reduction fund were the only policy tools the previous government deployed to address Australia’s spiralling climate pollution from industry – and to date they have been abject failures.

“Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has committed to change the safeguard, but there are many ways this could go wrong if big polluters get to set the rules.

“It’s 2022 and Australians are feeling the effects of climate change. These are all big, publicly listed companies that have done more than their share of climate damage – it’s time for them to, at the very least, do their fair share to clean up their mess.

“While emissions from coal mining have increased slightly over the five years, emissions from gas and oil extraction have ballooned by 20%, primarily due to the emergence of several new players in the sector.

“Gas consists mainly of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.

“Big new proposed gas projects, like Woodside’s Scarborough mine, will blow out the safeguard even further.

“The safeguard mechanism has the architecture to achieve credible emissions reductions in key sectors, but it needs serious surgery to turn it into an effective emissions-cutting tool.

“This analysis shows the government could deal with a huge chunk of Australia’s emissions by tightening the pollution rules for ten companies; that’s low-hanging fruit.”

ACF has called for emissions limits for facilities covered by the mechanism to be prescriptive and ambitious, ratcheting down in a predictable way and aligned with the government’s emissions reduction targets.

“A predictable phase down would give industry incentives to come up with innovative energy saving solutions to run their businesses more cleanly and efficiently,” Ms Schoo said.

“Ultimately it would make Australian industry more competitive in a global marketplace that puts a premium on products with a low carbon footprint.

“To date the safeguard mechanism has been a licence for big polluters to pollute more.

“This policy will make or break Australia’s 2030 target.

“ACF urges the government to move quickly to turn the safeguard mechanism from a broken tool into an effective scheme to cut emissions from the nation’s major polluters.”

The following facilities are the most heavily polluting projects under the safeguard mechanism.

Download the chart data

Read ACF’s submission on proposed changes to the safeguard mechanism

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992 or Freya Cole on 0477 638 774. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email [email protected]