Australian carbon emission targets – expert reaction

The Australian federal government announced today its plans to cut carbon emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.

CO2The announced target comes ahead of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015.

In preparation for creating an international climate agreement at COP21, countries were asked to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

New Zealand’s climate target, announced last month, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. You can read more about the NZ target and expert reaction here.

Our colleagues at the Australian SMC collected the following expert commentary.

Professor Steven Sherwood, Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW, comments:

“Though it could have been worse, a 26 per cent target is about half of what is really needed, and is weak enough to reinforce Australia’s new reputation as the world’s foot-dragger.    Global warming poses a much more serious risk to our future economy than conservation or alternative energy would, so that excuse makes absolutely no sense.

Associate Professor Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, comments:

“A 26 to 28% reduction target at 2030 falls far short of the international 2 degree goal. Most other developed countries’ targets also fall short, but generally by less than Australia’s.

“Among the international community, the target is likely to be perceived as falling short in its ambition relative to Australia’s opportunities to cut emissions deeply. However this target means Australia is at least on the boat with international climate action, even if considered a laggard. Domestically it opens the door to stronger climate change action. A credible plan for domestic policy to achieve the target will be needed.

“Australia’s target for reduction in absolute emissions is significantly weaker than that of the United States and the EU, weaker than Canada’s, and on par with Japan’s. The choice of 2005 makes Australia’s target look better than under other base years. When comparing the targeted 2030 emissions level to emissions in the year 2000 or 2012, Australia’s target is much weaker than that of the comparator countries.

“In per capita terms, Australia’s emissions are the highest among all major countries, and this would continue under the announced target. At 2030, emissions per person in Australia would be double the levels targeted in the EU and Japan, and higher than the targeted levels in the United States and Canada.

“Part of the reason is emissions intensive production of commodities for export, but in this field as in many others Australia has good opportunities for cutting emissions by improving technologies and modernizing the economy.”

Adjunct Professor Alan Pears, Senior Lecturer in Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, comments:

“The government’s assumption that setting a globally responsible, stronger target will damage the Australian economy is deeply flawed.

“As expert groups like the International Energy Agency and IPCC have pointed out, there is substantial negative cost (ie profitable) abatement potential available, much of it through energy efficiency improvement and innovation.

“At the same time, as noted by Prof Ross Garnaut and Dr Frank Jotzo, the cost of many abatement measures, such as renewable energy, has declined much faster than expected, and will continue to fall through economies of scale and ‘learning by doing’ if we support them.

“Further, we can now see that trying to prop up our fossil fuel industries while global demand for them falls is a false economy that undermines our overall economic future.”

Professor Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES), Victoria University, comments:

“The number itself is almost meaningless. Without proper joined-up policy that involves a carbon price, integrated with a mature energy policy designed to make the transition from coal to low-carbon energy as profitable and equitable as possible, such targets are of little use. If the government will not use their own experts (the Climate Authority), then any amount of modelling to rustle up ‘evidence’ to support their position is a waste of everyone’s time. The world is moving so fast that these empty gestures will soon be forgotten, except as a historical footnote.”