The we climate target for 2030 blows Australia out of the water. Along with dramatically strengthened targets by several other major countries, it resets expectations. And it puts great pressure on Australia to improve our game. If we don’t, we will be seen in the ranks of countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Doing so will help position the economy for the future.
The United States has now committed to reduce emissions between 50% and 52% by 2030 relative to 2005. In 2019, US emissions were only 13% below 2005 levels. The target is much stronger than most would have thought possible not too long ago. To achieve this, it would require profound change in the US economy, with comprehensive policies from both the federal and state administrations, and prompt action by investors.
The UK target is a 78% reduction relative to 1990 by 2035, and the EU 55% by 2030. Japan is expected to increase its 2030 target to a 46% cut relative to 2013. Canada’s it increased to 40% -45%, from 30%. These targets represent the kind of ambition that is required everywhere to effectively limit climate change. Complying with them will require strong policies.
Australia’s 2030 target of a reduction from 26% to 28% has always been quite weak compared to the targets of most other developed countries. It was meant to be reinforced, like all the promises of the Paris agreement. Now it is totally inadequate compared to those of our best friends and allies. The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 is important, but it must be supported by a realistic strategy, meaningful medium-term goals, and immediate action.
Australia’s domestic emissions were 14% below 2005 levels in 2019 and roughly 19% lower in 2020, in part due to Covid. The reductions in land clearing achieved mostly before 2013 explain the total aggregate reduction. Emissions from all other sources combined have increased since 2005, with a flat trend over the last five years.
We can easily do much better.
Emissions from electricity generation are gradually declining as ever cheaper wind and solar power displace coal. Policy could and should accelerate the shift to clean energy. Part of that is the more predictable and orderly closure of coal plants, allowing for timely replacement investments and support programs in the regions.
There is no significant effort to reduce emissions from the use of fuels in industry, transport, mining and oil and gas production, which account for more than half of Australia’s greenhouse gas footprint. It would be efficient and economically sensible to put a price on emissions in industry and mining. It would be beneficial to have minimum efficiency standards for cars and encourage the adoption of electric cars, as most developed countries do. There are no effective emissions policies in agriculture, except for government payments to some projects that aim to reduce emissions.
Slogans like “technology, not taxes” do not cut it internationally. The Biden administration has already sent a strong message to Australia that more than technology support is needed in Australia. And the many governments that successfully manage emissions markets will shake their heads.
The funding announced this week for regional hydrogen centers and international low-emission energy collaborations are positive steps. But they are small given the scale of the challenge and the opportunity, and not even a fig leaf in the absence of real policy. Some of the money goes to carbon capture and storage, while the large-scale clean energy export industries of the future will ultimately run on zero-emission energy.
Australia’s climate policy has been riddled with political parties. This needs to change. International pressure could help what seemed impossible in Canberra.
Australia is expected to take on a much stronger 2030 target and back it up with economy-wide policies and measures. Our allies will not accept “maybe later” or reminders that we “met and exceeded” our former Kyoto soft targets as an answer. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that any country that is not doing its best to broadcast will “hear from us.” Meanwhile, Europe is prepared to impose carbon penalties on imports from countries without proper emissions measures.
As a political pragmatist, Morrison should reposition his government. Increasing calls for sensible climate policy from much of the business and financial community will help with that. Scaremongering about the costs of action will lose its political appeal.
Expect the government’s political position to gradually weaken. Perhaps the door will be left open for climate policy measures after the elections. This, in turn, would broaden the Labor Party’s political scope to maneuver on climate policy, with its new emphasis on economic advantage.
Hopefully, the political contest over climate change will increasingly focus on what to do and how best to do it. That would be the starting point for stronger politics, whoever is in power, and the beginning of recovery after a decade lost to adversarial politics.
The fact of the matter is that decarbonizing means making Australia’s economy adapt to the low-emission future the world is embarking on. Holding on to the high pollution model of the 20th century is not a recipe for prosperity. We need to genuinely move towards net zero, starting now, using this continent’s zero-carbon energy advantage.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism