The Abbott government has responded to the dozens of questions about its climate policy posed by most of its major trading partners, but continues to stonewall about whether it can meet its modest 2020 target, and how it would address any future target agreed to in Paris later this year.
Last week, without any announcement, Australia formally responded to the unprecendent level of questions about its climate targets posed by the US, China, Brazil, the EU, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and even New Zealand.
It comes as Australia prepares for direct questioning about these and further questions in Bonn this Thursday, during a UN-sponsored conference that will be a critical lead-up to the big conference due to be held in Paris in December.
The questions from the other countries mainly focused on Australia’s 2020 target, which is currently as a modest 5 per cent reduction, an explanation of its Direct Action policy, and its accounting for land use measurements, which has effectively allowed Australia to turn a 31 per cent increase in industrial emissions to a country-wide fall of 2 per cent since 1990.
The countries also sought details of Australia’s participation in global carbon markets, its treatment of renewable energy targets, and how it will account for post-2020 targets.
Australia focused most of its responses on its Direct Action policy, including the Emissions Reduction Fund, despite the fact that the newness of some of its abatement has been questioned, and the fact that much of the 47 million tonnes bought in the first round of auctions won’t be delivered until after 2020.
Erwin Jackson, the deputy head of The Climate Institute, said the Australian Government had raised more questions than answers in its response.
“The government’s response to other countries questions on the effectiveness of its domestic pollution reductions policy lack transparency and try to avoid accountability,” Jackson said in a statement.
“The government appears to be inflating the impact of its actions to 2020 without providing any estimate of the pollution reductions it will deliver. Its responses raise more questions than it answers.
“Paris will be successful not only if countries agree to establish a framework which sends clear, bankable, signals to business and investors that decarbonisation investments continue grow.
“Paris will also be successful if it builds trust and accountability in ensuring all nations – developed and developing – are transparent and clear on their actions.”
Jackson said the lack of transparency around Australia’s domestic policy is disappointing. “If we are not prepared to be upfront with the international community how can we expect others like China, Brazil and other emerging economies to do the same?”
The Bonn conference will lay the groundwork for an agreement in Paris about post 2020 targets, and the pathway to achieving the stated goal of limiting average global warming to a maximum 2C. Some countries want a pathway that locks in no more than 1.5C average warming.
The Bonn conference is also looking at pre-2020 abatement. Australia has refused to lift its 5 per cent target by 2020, insisting it is in line with the actions of other countries, although in a response to China it says it will look at lifting its target to a cut of 25 per cent. This, though, is considered unlikely given the cost of its Direct Action policies.
Most independent studies suggest Australia should have a target of at least 15 per cent reductions, not including its Kyoto surplus, but say that would be impossible to meet with the Direct Action policies.
Jackson noted that Australia had refused to quantify the pollution reductions that its direct action plan was projected to deliver and failed to mention that a significant proportion of these reductions will occur after 2020.
The administrator of the ERF, the Clean Energy Regulator, has long insisted that it is not charged with meeting a 5 per cent cut, only to buy as much abatement as it can with the $2.55 billion budget allocated to it.
“Australia’s first effort in this international climate accountability is disappointing, the government will need to come clean on Thursday night,” said Jackson.