5% not good enough - Climate Authority

The Climate Change Authority says the 5 per cent reduction target by 2020 is "inadequate". To not start pushing harder this decade will mean greater economic disruption later.

The Climate Change Authority has released its draft recommendations on Australia’s emission reduction targets. It has concluded that Australia should tighten its emissions reduction target from the current default of a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 level emissions by 2020. Instead, the authority is outlining the possibility of 2020 targets that would aim to reduce emissions between 15 and 25 per cent below the levels that prevailed in the year 2000.

The authority points out that we now know it will be far easier to reach the 5 per cent reduction target than what was originally thought. When the Australian government, with the agreement of the then-Coalition opposition, settled on a 5 per cent emission reduction target as the base minimum for our Kyoto II international obligations, it was expected Australia would need to reduce its emissions by 754 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent over the 2013 to 2020 period. Yet in just a few months since that time we’ve subsequently realised that our emissions are tracking far lower than what was anticipated. This is something that has been reported across a range of articles published in Climate Spectator over the last 12 months.

The authority points out that if we were to continue to stick with trying to reduce our emissions from business-as-usual levels by the same amount of 754Mt it would equate to a reduction target of 11 per cent below 2000 levels. If we also take into account the credits Australia accumulated by undershooting our first 2008-12 Kyoto target, then it would equate to a 14 per cent reduction target on 2000 level emissions. 

Hence, if Australia were to just stick with its original base minimum level of emissions reduction ambition, we should be looking at something closer to a 15 per cent emissions reduction target.

But in addition, the authority argues that the scale and pace of emissions reduction effort taking place overseas suggests Australia should be upping its ambition beyond the 5 per cent cut. It goes so far as to say that sticking with the 5 per cent cut:

...would put Australia at the lower end of effort compared with other developed countries. This position would sit uncomfortably with Australia’s relative prosperity and high per person emissions.

Finally, it suggests that a 5 per cent cut is an “inadequate” first step if Australia were to play its part in keeping global warming to around 2 degrees.

As explained on Monday, to have a good probability of containing warming close to 2 degrees the world essentially has a fixed budget of emissions it can emit between now and 2050. If we emit a lot of this budget in the period to 2020 then it leaves very little available for the next 30 years. This would require drastic and, one suspects, economically intolerable rapid cuts in emissions.

It’s a bit like studying for exams. You can work steadily and diligently throughout the year to ensure you’re prepared. But if you were like me at uni, you frit away your time with your mates going surfing and late nights out drinking, but then you’re faced with a mad dash of late nights trying to learn the entire semester within a few days. Except in this particular case the late night cramming lasts 30 years.

The authority observes:

...a 5 per cent target would require an implausibly rapid acceleration of effort beyond 2020. Failing to do more in the short term is likely to increase future costs and cause unnecessary disruption to the economy and community more broadly.