New quarterly emissions data: What does it show us?

Tim Baxter
5 min readMar 1, 2023


Yesterday evening (after 5pm 🙄) the Australian federal government released its most recent quarterly emissions data. This release consists of the formal data for Q3 (July-September) 2022, and shows preliminary data for Q4 (Oct-Dec). This means we now have our first look at the full 2022 calendar year.

This data has been uploaded to Opennem’s emissions data portal, so you can have a look at it there, but I’ll give you a quick run through what it shows here. In short, there has been very little overall change between last year and this, but the net change shows some stuff happening under the hood.

Change in Australia’s net emissions by sector 2020–2022. Chart source: OpenNEM
Change in sectoral emissions between the 12 months to Q4 2021 and the 12 months to Q4 2022. Chart source: OpenNEM

Since the end of COVID lockdowns, there have been three dominant forces acting on our emissions, and these continued last year.

  • Electricity emissions are rapidly decreasing (but not rapidly enough!)
  • Transport emissions are rebounding (but have not yet reached pre-COVID levels)
  • Agricultural emissions have continued to rebound from the end of the Millenium drought.


Electricity sector emissions 2005–2022. Chart source: OpenNEM

The largest share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the electricity sector. Under this heading the federal government counts the emissions from all electricity generating infrastructure that is connected to any of Australia’s four largest electricity networks: the National Electricity Market (all of Victoria, Tasmania and ACT, almost all of New South Wales, and most of population in Queensland and South Australia), the South West Interconnected System (Perth and SWWA), the Darwin-Katherine Interconnected System and the North West Interconnected System (Pilbara and surrounds). I think the Mt Isa grid might be counted in here as well, but I forget.

(Emissions from on-site electricity generation and generators operating on smaller grids are counted elsewhere, under the heading ‘stationary energy’.)

Since 2016, a collapse in the amount of coal and gas generation in Australia has seen a steady drop in emissions, with this effect being particularly pronounced in the NEM. This has been driven by an epic roll out of renewable energy, which has caused annual consumption of the two fossil fuels in electricity generating infrastructure to fall by almost 20%.

Annual electricity generation by fuel type in the NEM, 2016–2022. Chart source: OpenNEM

As my mate Dylan McConnell has proved, this is still not happening fast enough — federal, state and territory governments need to get their bloody skates on just to ensure that the lights stay on, let alone to meet the climate challenge—but we are certainly making progress at least.

In the 2022 calendar year, emissions from electricity decreased by just under six million tonnes (COâ‚‚e), or 3.5%, compared to the year before.


COVID lockdowns took a bit of a hammer to reported transport emissions, though I think most people would be surprised by how little the total impact was. In the first full year of COVID, reported transport emissions fell by 14.4%. It was certainly the hardest hit sector, but six out of seven tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions remained.

(Spoiler: this is because pandemic lockdowns aren’t really a climate solution. They simply suppress activity. We need transformative solutions to permanently fix transport emissions, particularly in public and active transport.)

Now that governments and society is pretending that COVID doesn’t exist anymore, transport emissions are slowly rebounding back up to pre-pandemic levels. If we don’t start taking transformative action on transport emissions, we will entirely undo any reduction in emissions due to COVID.

Transport sector emissions, 2005–2022. Chart source: OpenNEM

In the 2022 calendar year, emissions from transport increased by just under five million tonnes (COâ‚‚e), or 5.2%, compared to the year before. emissions in 2022 were just over five million tonnes below the 12 months to 2020, if emissions jump back up by the same amount this year, we will be more-or-less back to pre-pandemic levels.


Reported agricultural emissions jumped by 2.6 million tonnes between the 2021 and 2022 calendar years as farmers continued restocking after several years of drought.

Emissions from agriculture mostly only includes livestock emissions and emissions from fertiliser use, with land clearing, crop wastes and fertiliser manufacture included under other categories (land use, waste and industrial processes respectively).

We shouldn’t expect this rate of increase to continue much longer, with agricultural emissions like to hit a natural ceiling quite soon.

Agricultural sector emissions, 2005–2022. Chart source: OpenNEM

At some stage, I am going to try to find time to write up what we should expect to see when looking at Australia’s quarterly emissions reports from the safeguard mechanism, but that’s future Tim’s problem, and I have other stuff to do for now.

Do feel free to have a play with the data over on OpenNEM’s emission data portal though. We’ve built some cool stuff there that you can explore interactively, including the full breakdown of the quarterly emissions data and the annual emissions projections (which now go to 2035) as well as a tool that you can use to compare Australia’s emissions reduction performance over time to that of every other country in the world.



Tim Baxter

Climate and energy researcher for my day job, but these opinions are written on my own time.