A dissenting opinion on the Climate Change Authority’s report
After much thought, as members of the Climate Change Authority, who participated in full in the Special review of Australia’s Climate Goals and Policies report published last week, we have concluded that we cannot in good conscience sign our names on the information.
We decided to write the minority report rather than resigning from the Authority. We present here edited excerpts from the information that was released today.
Our disagreement with the majority is based on its failure to acknowledge the importance of Australia’s carbon budget constraining all future emission-reduction policies and targets. The carbon budget is the total of emissions Australia can emit between now and 2050 while still contributing to the Paris Climate Agreement goal that global temperatures rise no more than 2 degrees.
The majority report does not address the relationship between the recommendations it makes and Australia’s national carbon budget. This is in line with an equitable and fair contribution by Australia to the global carbon budget.
The requirement for this was included in the Terms of Reference of the Special Review and analysed in the First report of the Special Review, released in April 2015. (Before the appointment of six members to the Authority in Oct. 2015).
In 2014, the Authority suggested a budget for Australian greenhouse gas emissions of 10.1 billion tons of greenhouse gases from 2013-2050. It recommended that Australia set a 2030 emissions reduction trajectory of 45-65% lower than 2005 levels. Compare this with the 26-28% target that the Abbott government has set.
The majority report, despite the limitations of the carbon budget, accepts the current government target – in some cases explicitly, in others implicitly.
The Authority’s advice to the government and Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, which requires Australia to keep warming below 2degC, does not support this lower target for 2030.
The graph below illustrates the carbon budget that the Climate Change Authority presented in an earlier report. The area below the curve shows the budget.
The pie chart embedded shows how much emissions would be left to cover 20 years after 2030 if the target of 26-28% is not changed. By 2030, Australia’s carbon budget up to 2050 will be exhausted. Australia’s carbon budget would need to be drastically reduced and net zero by 2035.
If Australia kept its current emission targets, there would be a lot of work after 2030. Author provided
A reduction of this magnitude would be impossible. The current target of 26-28 % is not credible because it’s incompatible with Australia’s obligations on the international stage. If it continues, it will likely lead to a crisis in policy within ten years or less.
We believe that the failure to state this in the majority report clearly is a violation of the Authority’s mandate to provide independent advice and to recommend “environmentally-effective” measures based on scientific research.
The majority report will sanction further delays and a slower pace of action with serious consequences for Australia. These consequences could include very costly and severe emissions reductions in the mid to late 2020s or a rejection of Australia’s commitments on an international level, as well as free-riding the efforts of other countries.
We believe that the recommendations in the majority report have been framed according to a particular interpretation of the political situation. It is often counterproductive and inappropriate to try to guess the outcome of political negotiations. This is especially true for a newly elected and uncertain parliament.
A focus that is too narrow, based on what appears to be a political reading of a crystal ball, has led to the exclusion of policies such as stronger renewable energy targets and stricter land-clearing restrictions. These are proven to have the greatest impact in achieving the climate change goals for the country.
The majority report recommends that the current Direct Action Policy be retained as the basis of future action. The Emissions Reduction Fund is its two pillars, along with the Safety Mechanism that incorporates it. This mechanism sets a maximum limit for emissions by major polluters.
The report recommends that a new scheme of emissions trading for electricity generation be developed, which is based on a baseline emissions intensity. This scheme would be more affordable than cap-and-trade schemes that are popular around the world, and Australia would already have if the Abbott government had not been in power. The intensity-based system is likely to be more attractive to politicians who are nervous after the controversy surrounding the carbon price.
The majority report minimizes the negative effects of the Safeguard Mechanism and emission-intensity schemes. We don’t have the space to talk about them, but we do want to mention the ERF flaws because the majority report suggests that it should be expanded.