Just as Tony Abbott seemed to cast off his climate change resistant armour and call for strong binding emissions reduction targets at next year’s UN conference in Paris, two major reports have suggested the Prime Minister is well off the mark with Australia’s own climate targets and risks steering the nation into a hundred billion-dollar carbon hole.
The first is from UNEP – the United Nations Environment Programme – whose 2014 Emissions Gap Report, released this week, measures the world’s progress on the path to limit global warming to 2°C and stave off dangerous climate change.
Based on its analysis, UNEP says that of the G20 nations, five of them – Brazil, China, the EU28, India and the Russian Federation – are on track to meet their 2020 emissions reduction pledges, having all adopted new policies since 2009 (see table below).
“Conversely,” the report continues, “Australia is no longer on track, due to the abolition of its carbon pricing mechanism,” which means that Australia – along with Canada, Mexico and the US – will almost certainly need to take further action and/or purchase offsets in order to meet its pledge.
This is a vastly different story to that which we are hearing from Abbott & Co this week, that is: “Australia has more than met its (Kyoto emissions reductions) targets and that can’t be said of other countries.”
This, we know, is a creative interpretation of the facts. Australia, as was reported in April this year, did indeed meet its first internationally-agreed climate target with nearly 131 million tonnes of emissions to spare – a fact the federal government has dined out on ever since. Environment Minister Greg Hunt told Radio 2CC in Canberra today that Australia’s emission reduction efforts had been “a really big gift to the world.”
But as was noted back then by Climate Change Authority member Professor Clive Hamilton, beating this target so easily was “nothing to brag about”, but rather reflected an “outrageously generous target” that Australia won at the Kyoto negotiations in 1997.
But instead of accepting the CCA’s recommendation that Australia at least treble its minimum 2020 emissions reduction target from 5 to 15 per cent below 2000 levels (or 19 per cent, factoring in past carbon credits), the Coalition has opted to maintain Australia’s unambitious 5 per cent target, backed by its even more unambitious Direct Action policy.
The second report to blow a hole in Abbott’s carbon story, from local group Beyond Zero Emissions, puts a dollar figure to the gap between the Australian government’s projections and the realities of the carbon-constrained global economy; and it’s a big one – $100 billion a year.
In analysis that was today referenced by Ross Garnaut at the Melbourne Economic Forum, BZE warns that the Abbott government is relying on economic projections that don’t take account of international action on climate change.
“There will be a significant shortfall – $100 billion annually by 2030 – when projected exports of fossil fuels are rejected by an international economy already moving towards clean energy” said Gerard Drew, Lead Researcher, Beyond Zero Emissions.
And the UNEP report details why. According to UNEP, to keep the world within the 2°C limit, global carbon neutrality will need to be achieved sometime between 2055 and 2070. Global emissions will then need to shrink to net zero some time between 2080 and 2100.
Of course, bringing global emissions down to below the pledge range in 2020 will allow the world to postpone the timing of carbon neutrality and net zero total emissions.
But thanks to the kind of policy near-sightedness evident in Direct Action, the current pathway of global emissions is consistent with scenarios that assume only modest emission reductions up to 2020 and then stringent mitigation thereafter.
“By postponing rigorous action until 2020, this pathway will save on costs of mitigation in the near term. But it will bring much higher costs and risks later on,” says the report.
In the medium-term future, these would include: the need for much higher rates of global emission reductions; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on all available mitigation technologies; greater costs of mitigation in the medium-and long-term, and greater risk of economic disruption.
There would also be a greater reliance on negative emissions and greater risks of failing to meet the 2 °C target, which would lead to substantially higher adaptation challenges and costs.
What governments like Abbott’s seem unable to grasp, is that putting greater effort into reducing emissions over the next few years would reduce all of these risks and would bring many co-benefits – not least of all, climate mitigation.