Report urges emissions reductions but downplays the opportunities
According to draft recommendations published today by the Climate Change Authority, Australia should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2000 levels before 2025.
For Australia to be credible on climate change, it will have to set a clear target for emissions for 2025. The Authority’s recommendations are justified in principle, but the government will probably not accept them.
The Authority pays little attention to the benefits of Australia becoming a low-emissions country and instead highlights international emissions trading.
Post-2020 Target Game
In the United Nations climate negotiations, every country is required to make an emission commitment for the next few months. The United States, European Union, and other countries have announced their targets. China has also announced its contribution.
What would it take for Australia to do its part? Climate Change Authority (CCA), an independent statutory agency that advises on emission targets and policies, weighed three factors into its recommendation. These were Australia’s relative ability to afford to take action to reduce emissions, the nation’s obligation to do so, and the amount of effort needed to reach the target.
Australia’s per capita income is at the highest end, which indicates a strong ability to act.
Australia is the most responsible country in terms of responsibility. It emits the largest amount per capita of greenhouse gases among major developed nations. Add self-interest. As a country highly vulnerable to global climate change, Australia stands to benefit from international action.
How difficult is it for Australia to reduce emissions?
It’s a question of effort. Peter Woolcott, Australia’s ambassador for the environment, said at a recent forum at ANU Crawford School that opinions would differ about “what Australia can achieve realistically given its unique national circumstance and characteristics, such as its resource endowment and economic and population increase.”
The government is likely to cite Australia’s abundance of fossil fuels, as well as the relatively high rate of population growth and the expectation that economic growth will continue in the future, to justify a lower goal than other countries.
The 30% target recommended by the Authority translates to large reductions in emissions per capita and emissions intensity for Australia’s GDP. As the Authority’s Report shows (see Figure 3 in its report below), Australia’s emissions per capita and power would be higher in 2025 than the United States’ and Europe’s targets.
Climate Change Authority
As the world slowly moves away from emission-intensive development, national interest cases for such reductions are strengthened.
The coal question
What is the situation with Australia’s resource endowment?
The resource boom has come to an end, and the growth of mining and energy extraction is slower than expected.
The growth of energy use and emissions will slow or even stop in the resource industries. This is confirmed by the government’s projections for a slower increase in underlying emissions.
Australia, a country that relies heavily on coal and has a relatively low energy efficiency level, has fewer restrictions than countries with comparatively higher energy productivity levels or who do not use as much coal. We can reduce emissions by phasing out coal, stopping energy waste, and reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Solid international commitment, backed by clever policies, could open up many new economic opportunities.
It is hard to imagine that the United States will be able to achieve a nominally higher target than the Canadian government.
Australia can reduce emissions cheaply and deeply with many benefits.
It is possible to make even more drastic cuts, both economically and technically.
The recent study we conducted with ClimateWorks Australia, Deep Decarbonisation Pathways based on models by CSIRO, Victoria University, and other institutions revealed that Australia could cut its emissions deep and maintain strong economic growth.
This scenario aims to achieve Australia’s net emissions being zero by 2050. This is based on a zero-carbon electric supply that draws on Australia’s abundant endowment of renewable energy and its technical potential, a shift away from direct fuel usage to electricity, and economic improvements in energy efficiency.
Carbon plantations are able to offset all remaining emissions, including those from export agriculture and mining.
The modelling predicts a reduction of one-third below the levels in 2000 by 2025 and a half-reduction by 2030. Estimated economic costs are small, and significant changes to Australia’s economy structure will not be likely as a result.