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Big thorns, small roses in climate news from Australia, China and world

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While pyjamas, fart references and electoral reform dominated political news from our national capital last week, climate news ranged from the downright terrifying to the possibly hopeful – there were big thorns and some small roses.

On Friday Australian emissions data for the September Quarter was released and China’s next five year plan was unveiled. Joining the dots it appears that in 2015 Australia’s energy emissions rose as China’s fell.  It may be the case for national emissions as well. There goes another argument for inaction.

But first in other news, 2015 temperatures were confirmed as the highest yet globally, with January and February data smashing past records. Normally staid climatologist reactions varied from “wow” to “terrifying”.

Extreme weather and other climate impacts have hammered communities and ecosystems.  The Great Barrier Reef was under imminent significant bleaching threat, it may just have been avoided in the southern areas because of some fortunate cloud cover but reefs in the north were reported to be in strife.

Earlier in the week there was some debate over whether Australia’s emissions have peaked or plateaued.  The latest government data on Friday showed an overall annual emissions increase of 0.2%. Electricity sector emissions continued their rise since the repeal of the carbon laws increasing 2.1%.

This rise was offset by falls in coal mining and agriculture (cow numbers mostly). There was an attempt to sugar coat the data by saying national emissions were less than projected but there’s no hiding it was another rise. Questions are being raised about the flatlined land use emissions data with Queensland landclearing escalating but the below Figure is clear:

image001

On Wednesday, the Climate Institute released it’s submission to the Climate Change Authority’s policy review which highlighted that the task isn’t about peaking but fully preventing pollution.

The Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Environment Minister have all recognised the goals agreed in Paris require the building of net zero emission economies. Our climate, energy and economic policies need to integrate that objective by 2050 along with a credible pathway to it which recognises the other budget – the carbon budget.

The small global rose in the emissions data was released by the International Energy Agency that showed that at least global emissions from energy had stalled for the second year in a row while global economic growth continued – positive signs of decoupling. But again the real objective is for fully preventing such pollution not just peaking it.

Finally, and perhaps another small rose, it appears that China’s 13th Five Year Plan for Economic and Social Development has now been adopted. Although it is unclear when the full plan will be made available online in English, some of the climate change and energy content includes:

  • An 18% reduction in CO2 intensity per unit of GDP from 2015 levels by 2020
  • A 15% reduction in energy intensity per unit of GDP from 2015 levels by 2020

Given that China overachieved against both of its intensity targets set in the 12th Five Year Plan, these new targets essentially mean that China has committed to bringing CO2 intensity down to ~50% below 2005 levels by 2020; an assessment backed by recent comments made by Minister Xie Zhenhua[1]. This means China is headed for a 5-10% overachievement of the 40-45% reduction pledge it made in Copenhagen[2].

These targets are the latest in a string of bold Chinese announcements made since the Paris COP, including the State Council’s announcement that China will not approve any new coal mines before the end of 2019 and that 500 million tonnes of capacity will be shut down over the next 3-5 years.

In reporting the decrease in global energy emissions the IEA noted China’s energy emissions were down 1.5% in 2015 (Government data for 2015 Australian energy emissions are not yet released – the September quarter shows a continued rise).   Statistics are also showing that China’s coal consumption declined for the second year running in 2015 (in 2015 coal consumption dropped 3.7% and coal mine output slid 3.5%).

Importantly language in the climate section of the plan indicates that China will “implement and enhance its INDC to tackle climate change” in the context of the five-year plan’s period (2016-2020).  The Paris Agreement saw countries agree in general to increase their ambition over time, but so far no major emitter has explicitly mentioned that it will enhance its ambition.

Australia should also move to enhance its ambition with a clear objective of net zero emissions by 2050 and a credible path to get there with strengthened 2030 targets. It’s time for more roses and less rises in our emissions story.

 

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