Greenhouse gas emissions up in 2016

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2016, despite falls across the electricity and transport sectors.

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The latest update, published on Friday, reported an overall increase of 1.4 per cent in the year to December compared to 2015.

Fugitive emissions – gases or vapours that leak during the production, processing, transport, storage and distribution of fossil fuels – accounted for the biggest increase, rising six per cent over the 12 months.

That was largely driven by an increase in natural gas production with new LNG facilities coming online.

There was also a spike in emissions (4.6 per cent) from stationary energy – namely petroleum refining, fuels used in manufacturing and domestic heating.

Agriculture, waste and industrial sectors also recorded increases in emissions.

Electricity generation remains the largest source of emissions in Australia, accounting for 35 per cent even after a 0.3 per cent reduction in 2016.

“This decrease was partially driven by weakening demand in the national electricity market,” said the quarterly update on Australia’s national greenhouse accounts.

The Climate Council says the rise in emissions should serve as an embarrassment to the federal government.

“This is clear evidence that Australia is failing to tackle climate change compared to superpowers like the United States, whose emissions fell last year, and China, which has peaked its emissions more than a decade earlier than it promised in Paris,” scientists Will Steffen said in a statement.

The report card showed Australia hadn’t seen a decrease in emissions since the March 2015 quarter.

“It’s clear that this isn’t just a once off – this trend is now reaching disappointing new heights,” Professor Steffen said.

NAB apology for non-disclosure by advisers

National Australia Bank has apologised to at least 150,000 customers for failing to disclose that its advisers were cross-selling the bank’s products.

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The bank on Friday issued an apology and made a “corrective disclosure” to customers about the relationship between its advisers, its financial advice licensees and the recommended investments, following an investigation by the corporate regulator.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has found that NAB’s financial advisers were recommending products to customers without disclosing that these were issued by the group’s firms, including its MLC wealth management unit.

While customers were issued statements of advice and financial services guides, these failed to fully disclose the connection between the adviser, the financial advice licensee and the investment products, ASIC said.

Financial institutions are required to disclose that information under the Corporations Act.

In response, NAB says it had failed to update template documents its financial advisers gave to customers between 2007 and early 2016 so that they included details of new investment managers the group had acquired or taken a shareholding in.

The bank also said it had issued statement of advice templates between 2012 and 2016 referring customers to the Financial Services Guide for full disclosures of relationships, but admitted it should have included the full details.

“We apologise to our customers, and want to assure them that they did not impact the quality of advice they received from their adviser, and there is no impact on their investments or portfolios,” NAB’s executive general manager of Wealth Advice Greg Miller said in a statement.

Customers who invested in MLC-branded products will receive corrective disclosure for a three-month period when they log in to their accounts on the MLC website.

NAB has also agreed to write to the rest of the affected customers currently invested in related products, explicitly acknowledging the issue and providing a corrective disclosure.

WA views on economy improving

West Australians feel more confident about the economy than they did nearly three years ago, but most people have a negative view about the short and medium-term future.

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About 29 per cent believe the WA economy will strengthen over the next 12 months, up from 26 per cent in the previous quarter and the strongest result since 2014.

However 36 per cent said it would weaken, but most are optimistic it would remain the same, according to the latest survey from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia which involved 828 adults.

Only 12 per cent thought the economy would improve in the next three months with 34 per cent believing it would weaken.

The fact that almost two-thirds of consumers were optimistic that the economy would remain the same or improve in the medium-term indicated “a healthy majority feeling good about the immediate future”, CCI economist Rick Newnham said.

However consumer confidence in personal finances dropped three per cent in the June quarter and is just one per cent higher than the six-year low of 12 this time last year with 39 per cent reporting their financial situation deteriorated in the quarter.

Only nine per cent of consumers believed their job prospects had improved since the last quarter and nearly a third of consumers reported their employment situation had worsened in the last three months, Mr Newnham said.

About 65 per cent of women felt secure in their jobs, compared with 72 per cent of men.

“Consumers are, however, feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, with living costs again coming in as a significant weight on peoples minds,” Mr Newnham said.

Given the subdued job security and wage growth sentiments, it was critical that there were no new or increased taxes, fees or charges levied against the business community because it would result in job losses and less spending in the economy, he said.

WA households have already been hit with average power bills rises of $169 a year as part of increases to fees and charges that will total almost $440 a year extra.

Qld minister defends personal email use

Queensland’s Liberal National Party Opposition are calling for Environment Minister Steven Miles to stand down over his use of a private email account, but Dr Miles has accused them of “grasping at straws”.

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The Australian has reported a right-to-information application for his email activity, lodged by the state opposition, showed he had sent documents relating to cabinet discussions to his private account in October and March.

Dr Miles clarified on Friday that he had sent three emails to himself, one of which was just the word “test” while another was documents he wanted to print out for emergency meetings during the response to Cyclone Debbie earlier this year.

The third was a draft email Dr Miles was going to send to help a constituent of LNP Member for Gympie Tony Perrett have a grazing issue resolved.

“The three emails that have been released, to my knowledge there are no others, it’s not something I do regularly, I think anyone would understand that in a rush to get to a disaster committee meeting I wanted to print a document,” Dr Miles said.

“This is an entirely appropriate use of email, and I think the opposition are grasping at straws here.”

Dr Miles said he believed the action was within the guidelines set by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk earlier this year, after fellow cabinet minister Mark Bailey was referred to the corruption watchdog for his use and subsequent deletion of a private email account.

The probe into Mr Bailey was launched following reports he received emails from the Electrical Trades Union secretary over his concerns about a now-abandoned superannuation merger.

Opposition frontbencher Scott Emerson said Dr Miles had breached those guidelines and had to face consequences.

“The test on this is the premier, she gave very clear instructions to her ministers, ‘don’t use private email accounts,’ Steven Miles ignored that direction,” Mr Emerson told reporters on Friday.

“The other thing of concern is that we know there’s been a number of leaks of cabinet documents from the environment department at the same time Steven Miles was using his private email account.”

Mr Emerson stopped short of saying the LNP would refer the matter to the Crime and Corruption Commission, adding it would be up to the premier to decide how to deal with the issue.

No deal to end Cyprus’ decades-old division as talks crumble

Marathon talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s drawn-out conflict sputtered out early Friday without a deal, despite valiant efforts from the UN chief to jumpstart the process.

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Cyprus is one of the world’s longest-running political crises and the UN-backed talks that began in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana on June 28 had been billed as the best chance to end the island’s 40-year division.

The failure to reach a deal brings an end to more than two years of UN-backed efforts to resolve the conflict.

“I am deeply sorry to inform you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and the different parties … the Conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and later occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired putsch seeking union with Greece.

Guterres himself was upbeat when he first joined the Crans-Montana talks late last week, describing the negotiations as “highly constructive”, and urging the rival Cypriot sides to seize “a historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement to the conflict that has divided Cyprus for too many decades”.

But the tone quickly soured and the UN chief flew back to Switzerland early Thursday in a bid to try to end the stalemate that had set in.

He held a full day of back-to-back meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek-Cypriot leader, and his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci, as well as the foreign and European affairs ministers from so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was also there to show support for the process.

And US Vice President Mike Pence called Anastasiades and Akinci urging them to “seize this historic opportunity to reunify the island … to the benefit of all Cypriots,” according to the White House.

‘People yelling’ 

But after pushing negotiations into Friday, just hours before he was set to leave for the G20 summit in Hamburg, a drawn-looking Guterres was forced to acknowledge that the talks ended “without a result.”

Shortly before his announcement, a source close to the negotiations told AFP the talks had become heated: “There was people yelling, a lot of emotions.” 

Guterres himself said “it was obvious that there was still a significant distance between the delegations on a certain number of issues, and a deal was not possible,” he said, without providing more details.

But during the past week, it became clear the negotiations had run into trouble over security guarantees and the withdrawal of Turkish troops, among other things.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias earlier in the week called for the withdrawal of Turkey’s “occupying troops”, while Ankara retorted that “Turkey will not step back on the issue of security and guarantees.” 

Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops there, and any prospects of reunification largely hinge on a drastic reduction of Ankara’s military presence.

Several previous peace drives have stumbled over the issue, with Greek Cypriots demanding a total withdrawal of what they say is an occupying force and minority Turkish-speakers fearful of ethnic violence in the event of a pullout.

Despite the lack of an agreement, Guterres on Friday hailed the efforts of the two Cypriot leaders and their communities to find common ground.

And with UN mediator Espen Barth Eide by his side, he praised the UN team that had “done everything possible to bring closer the positions.”

Guterres stressed that while the Crans-Montana conference had proved fruitless, “that doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed in order to address the Cyprus problem.”

“The United Nations role is the role of a facilitator and we will be always at the disposal of the parties willing to come to an agreement if that would be the case,” he said