Throughout Australia and the world, many states have decided on net-zero emissions by 2050 to combat climate change. This target may seem ambitious, however those who are looking at the global carbon budget have done the math.
They have concluded that every year we delay emissions reduction, adds to the eventual cost of action as it locks in more emission-intensive industry and infrastructure and defers investment in low emission technology, industry and jobs.
Several studies (Pathways to Zero- Environment Victoria 2016); and the Climate Change Authority(Page 120) have shown that an ambitious early approach is the best way to proceed economically, and is the only way to avoid an intolerable burden of massive emissions reduction required by future generations.
Since Australia’s emissions have not fallen in the last 10 years, and there is no federal plan to make really significant reductions, Australia’s states must take up the challenge.
A Panel established by the Victorian government has been seeking advice from environmental groups and industry in setting targets for the periods 2021-2025 and 2026-2030, following the earlier setting of an interim target to 2020 of 15-20% below 2005 levels.
These targets may seem theoretical but as Victoria’s Renewable Energy Advocate, Simon Corbell, has said, targets are a useful tool for all sectors. They provide a goal for government, more certainty for industry and a guide for environmental advocates.
But what parameters form the basis of these targets?
The carbon budget is a useful concept to guide the degree of urgency required in emissions reduction. This budget defines the limit to the amount of fossil-fuel combustion beyond which there will be little chance of keeping mean global temperature increase to less than the Paris Agreement commitment of 2°C.
With business-as-usual, the budget will be used within 10 to 14 years.
A number of groups have submitted to the Panel’s special review. Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia reflects doctors’ concerns about the adverse health effects from continuing rapid greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere which drives global warming.
While earlier the effects were mainly predictions, we are now seeing these become reality. Maximal temperatures are increasing, and heatwaves and wild-fires are extending outside summer months not only in Australia but in all regions of the world, leading to direct loss of life as well as a heavy psychological and emotional burden from loss of property and fears for what the future might hold.
Cyclones and extreme weather events have become more intense leading to unprecedented flooding and damage to infra-structure. Sea-level rise is proceeding and while the eventual outcome is still uncertain, there are millions of coastal inhabitants who will need to relocate.
Vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever are moving further from the equator. Biodiversity loss to which global warming is a major factor, is probably contributing to an increase in immunological disorders.
DEA has suggested in the Panel review strong ERTs of 40% below 2005 levels by 2025 and 50-60% below 2005 levels by 2030. These levels are similar to those recommended by the Australian government’s Climate Change Authority in 2014.
The federal government has adopted a much weaker target of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030. This small target will be reached easily, and so provides no incentive for further reductions which could be achieved by policies to assist the phasing out of coal-fired power stations.
Of course, reduction of coal-fired power requires continued expansion of renewable electricity generation coupled with storage technologies, much of which is now market-driven. However all areas where emissions reduction is required, including industry and land use, would benefit from the certainty that targets provide.
ERTs are a crucial step to low carbon emissions that will ensure a habitable planet for current and future generations.
Dr John Iser is chair of the Victorian committee of Doctors for the Environment Australia