Monday, April 20, 2015

What should Australia's post 2020 #climate targets be?

This original article was published at

Australia is already feeling the pinch of economic and carbon transitions underway as the world inches closer to a climate agreement in Paris in December, 2015.

Our Prime Minister has backed coal as a path of human prosperity right at the moment when coal is rapidly becoming anaethema due to the toxic affect of coal on human health (See CAHA: Coal and Health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world) and greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change.

A report just released by Environment Victoria found that the social and health costs of coal in Victoria amounted to about $3.7 billion each year. Tom Arup and Adam Morton at the Age report on The hidden cost of the Hazelwood coal power plant. There is so much in cost being born by the taxpayer, while companies like GDF Suez, Energy Australia and AGL Energy rake in the profits, yet we can't manage to close a redundant, dirty, aging coal plant like Hazelwood.

To stave off transitional changes Abbott has endeavoured, and succeeded, in undermining Australia's renewable energy sector that has seen a plunge in investment to near zero and loss of jobs, just as the rest of the world expands renewables production faster than 'expert' growth predictions.

The abolition of the carbon tax has allowed energy generators to squeeze more profit out of their aging coal fired generators at the expense of soaring greenhouse gas emissions.

The USA - China climate deal has meant China is already acting to cap usage of coal, both to address the huge pollution problems and the social unrest that has been engendered, and the carbon pollution threat to increasing world temperatures.

This is not good news for Australia's expanding coal export industry. The Baird NSW State Government approved 1.366 tonnes of new coal mines in the six months before the NSW election. It is doubtful if they will all go ahead, and those that do will be at risk of becoming stranded assets due to the structural changes in coal demand due to climate change and it's health impacts.

The reduced steel production in China has also hit iron ore exports. The present mining boom is over,and we failed to capitalise on it by establishing a sovereign wealth fund, although such was opposed by the IPA along with carbon pricing and mining tax. Very short sighted.

The collapse of Australian mining export revenues has clearly caused budget problems for Treasurer Joe Hockey, but instead of seeking to structurally address these issues in a reasonable manner, he used the May 2014 budget to disenfranchise and reduce payments for some of those on the lowest incomes in Australia as well as slashing the Foreign Affairs budget by more than $11 billion.

We dearly need the carbon tax restored and the estimated $7 billion in revenue that would bring in, as well as slashing the $10 billion in Federal Government subsidies to fossil fuels each year, neither of which are on the agenda of the present government.

Australia misses deadline in submission of post 2020 targets

Australia was not one of the 32 countries that made the 31 March deadline submission of its post 2020 targets to the UNFCCC. But on 28th March a public consultations process was announced on Australia’s post-2020 emissions reduction target. Submissions close 3pm AEST Friday 24 April 2015.

Australia's current emissions reduction target is 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020, although we still have a commitment under the UNFCCC to a range up to 25 per cent if certain conditions are met.

Other Nations have already lodged questions about Australia's low ambitions and how it will meet it's commitments through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC) process.

Brazil asked "Considering the low level of ambition presented until now, as well as the historical data, does Australia intend to change its unconditional target in order to increase its level of ambition?"

China asked "Clean Energy Future Plan set out a number of PaMs to achieve the 5% emission reduction target in 2020. However, ETS and CFI, as two core elements of this plan, have been replaced by the Emission Reduction Fund (ERF). What is the expected mitigation potential of this fund? Will it be enough to compensate for what was included in ETS and CFI?"

Switzerland asked "To what extent are renewable energy sources (RES) being used by the Party at present and how is the potential for replacing conventional fuels for power generation by RES estimated for 2020 and beyond? What share of RES in total national power generation is expected to be achievable by 2020 and 2030, respectively?"

A question from the European Union asked for information on how the anticipated mitigation potential of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) could meet the more ambitous 15 per cent and 25 per cent targets that are part of our commitment range already made?

And there are many more questions from several countries, none of which Australia has yet provided answers for. Read more on this in an exclusive report by Tom Arup and Adam Morton in the Sydney Morning Herald: China and other big emitters challenge Australia over its climate change policies

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has resolutely stuck to this low level of ambition at the Climate summit in New York in September, 2014 where she was shunned. More recently she evaded a question on climate change and the risk to security when she attended Obama's 6th State of the Union (SOTU) Speech in January 2015.

Our 5 per cent target is plainly inadequate when compared to what other nations are already undertaking. The Climate Change Authority in March, 2014 recommended that the conditions had been met to lift our 2020 targets to 15 per cent on 2000 levels. The Authority indicated that post-2020 domestic emission reduction targets of between 40% and 60% by 2030 would be required.

The Climate Institute recommended to the Climate Change Authority that Australian emissions reduction goals be 40 per cent below 2000 levels by 2025 and net zero emissions between 2040 and 2050.

I remember that during the 2007 Kyoto Protocal climate talks where the Bali roadmap was formulated, the recommended emission cuts were moved to a footnote. I wrote at the time: "The guideline that rich countries should cut emissions by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 as recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was moved to a footnote at the US delegation's insistence."

Lenore Taylor in The Guardian highlights that the discussion paper does not even mention the 2C goal, first decided at Copenhagen in 2009 and confirmed at Cancun in 2010. But the issues paper does mention a scenario that could result in almost 4C global warming.

Already the USA has submitted it's negotiating targets and Obama has stated that climate change can no longer be denied or ignored. The United States commitment is for "an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%."

Comparison of per capita emission reduction trends for the USA and Australia

France has urged Australia to stick to its climate commitment. French ambassador Christophe Lecourtier told ABC AM program "Your country is a very influential country in the Asia-Pacific region and you know that climate change is having tremendous consequences in the region....We do believe that it's the ultimate ambition for the world community if we want to leave a liveable planet for the next generation. And I do expect your country, as my government expects your country, to be one of the key countries, one of the leaders in that very important moment at the end of this year."

Julie Bishop, also on the ABC AM radio program, said that Australia would play a positive role in the talks, "Australia contributes about 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and so we will take action that is proportionate to our global greenhouse gas emissions."

A number of other countries have also submitted ambituous minimum commitments:

Abbott Government funds climate contrarian research

While the world is ramping up commitment to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Australia has just funded climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg $4 million over the next four years to establish an Australian Consensus Centre at the University of Western Australia.

It is likely the Abbott Government will attempt to use the work of Lomborg's consensus centre to down play the necessity to mitigate climate change and to argue that Australia should have special consideration due to our heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation. Australia had a special consideration clause - it was even called the Australia clause - under the Kyoto Protocol, over land use and deforrestation emissions which made it much easier for us to meet our commitments.

This time round we might find other nations won't be so generous to allow any 'special consideration'.

So what target do you think Australia should aim for? Read the white paper and make your Submission by 3pm AEST Friday 24 April 2015.

Update: Submission deadline has now been extended to 1st May. John Englart prepared an 8 page formal submission on behalf of Climate Action Moreland.

John Englart and his teenage daughter will be travelling to Paris to report on the United Nations COP21 climate talks (including for Nofibs), and in particular what role Australia plays in those negotiations. Over $1400 was successfully raised from 20 backers through crowdfunding to help meet their living costs while covering the climate talks.