Australia would need to increase its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target from its current minimum of 5 per cent on 2000 levels, to a minimum of 15 per cent, in order to make a responsible contribution to the international effort to restrict warming to a 2°C rise in global temperatures, the Climate Change Authority has found.
In its final report on Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, released on Thursday, the CCA has called for a “significant tightening” of Australia’s existing commitment to cut emissions, recommending a trajectory that would result in reductions of between 40 and 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030.
This would include using Australia’s carryover under the Kyoto Protocol to raise 2020 target by 4 percentage points, giving an effective emissions reduction target of 19 per cent.
The report also recommended a national emissions budget of 4,193 Mt CO2-e for the 2013–2020 period, and of 10,100 Mt CO2-e for 2013-2050, based on what might be considered Australia’s fair share of an increasingly tight global emissions budget.
It has also recommended the creation of a fund to go towards bottom fishing cheap emissions abatement by taking advantage of record low international carbon prices.
“A large supply of genuine emissions reductions is currently available in global markets at historically low prices. The budgetary cost of moving from the current minimum 5 per cent target to the Authority’s recommended target entirely through international purchases is estimated at between $210 and $850 million, assuming average unit prices of between $0.50 and $2 (current prices are under $1).”
The report – which was required by legislation passed by the Labor Gillard government – might be the final study concluded by the CCA, which the Abbott government has vowed to abolish, but will not be able to until it can get enough votes in the new Senate post July 1.
But the report highlights the growing gap between what analysts say needs to, and can, be done, and what will be possible under the Abbott government’s new Direct Action policy, which most economists say will be impossible to meet unless Kyoto credits are counted, and which will be incapable of reaching more ambitious targets recommended by the CCA without blowing the federal budget.
In January, Bloomberg New Energy Finance trashed the Coalition’s climate proposal on its two key measures – its ability to attract finance and its ability to deliver additional emissions reductions, finding little in the government’s Direct Action Green Paper “to dispel the widely held view that …(it) is largely an exercise in wishful thinking.” And theirs have not been the only voices to warn it was likely to fail.
Pointedly, the CCA recommends the use of market-based emissions, such as the carbon price that the Abbott government wants to repeal, and the renewable energy target, which is also under threat. The report came as a new study from Oxford single out Australia for criticism for reversing its climate law.
But as Climate Change Authority chair Bernie Fraser told a press conference this morning, Australia’s emissions reduction task, as they see it, “is doable and it’s there to be done.”
Speaking at the release of the report, Fraser reiterated that the report’s findings were very much “driven by the climate science,” which he said had come from the rigorous processes that scientists go through and the careful way they write up their results.
As the CCA report notes, the current consensus in climate science suggests there is a 67 per cent probability that the rise in global temperatures could be held to 2°C if total global emissions between 2000 and 2050 were limited to 1,700 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
“What makes climate change such a challenging task for policy makers everywhere,” says the report, “is that roughly a third of this global emissions ‘budget’ has been used already.”
Fraser also noted that while most people seemed, now, to “believe” in climate change, that those beliefs came in different strengths, including the “weak belief” category, held by those (such as the majority of the federal Coalition) who were not entirely persuaded, or motivated to take credible action.
“This is not the kind of belief that one would have if one truly believed in the climate science and what it’s telling us,” he said.
Also challenged at the press conference were claims that the CCA’s recommended course of action on climate would be detrimental to the Australian economy.
“The economic cost of these measures is tiny in comparison to such things as fluctuations in the Australia dollar,” said economist and CCA board member Professor John Quiggin, and even more negligible when compared to the potential cost of unmitigated climate change.
Responding to the report’s release, Climate Institute CEO John Connor said he hoped the CCA’s recommended carbon budgets and emission targets would “shatter acceptance of the chronically short-sighted 5 per cent 2020 reduction target.”
But the Climate Institute also noted that, in some aspects of its report, the CCA should have been more ambitious.
“To achieve our national interest goal of helping avoid a 2oC increase in global temperature a more ambitious 2020 target of 25 per cent reductions and national carbon budget consistent with a high chance of avoiding dangerous climate change would further reduce the economic risks of delaying credible climate change action,” Connor said.
The Climate Council also backed the Authority’s recommendations, with CEO Amanda McKenzie reiterating the report’s major message: “that Australia must reduce emissions at a much more significant rate than we have been to date.”
“The world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, are stepping up their efforts on climate change,” McKenzie said in statement on Thursday. “Both countries have emissions reduction targets and are investing heavily in renewable energy. The US has already reduced its carbon pollution 11%, so we know it’s doable for Australia.”
Leading renewable energy company, Pacific Hydro, has also weighed in on the report, stressing the importance of the country’s 20 per cent by 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET) in achieving the recommended emission reduction targets.
“The reality is that in the absence of any other effective policy, the 41,000GWh RET must remain unchanged in order to meet the five percent emissions reduction target, let alone any increase in our emissions reduction target,” said Pacific Hydro general manager for Australia, Lane Crockett.