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Monday, October 25, 2021

Australia's 2030 climate targets for COP26

Source: Climate Council: from Paris to Glasgow report, 21 October, 2021

The Nationals have now given in principle support for Net zero by 2050. But 2050 is so far in the distance it is effectively irrelevant to what commitment and ambition Australia takes to the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, COP26. 

Ratcheting up 2030 ambition and targets is what is really at issue. This was written into the Paris Agreement that countries increase ambition after 5 years. That time is now. Senate estimate questioning on 25 October reveals Australia's 2030 target not being updated (See update at end of post)

While we wait for the Liberal Party to reflect upon the Nationals Party confidential 3 page list of demands on committing Australia to Net Zero by 2050 target, lets reflect a bit more on the 2030 target for Australia. 

According to Climate Works Australia analysis, actions by Australian state governments has already set a de facto emissions target of 37 - 42 percent by 2030 based on a 2005 baseline eclipsing the 26-28 per cent set in 2015 by Prime Minister Abbott that formed part of Australia's initial Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and updated NDC this year.

ClimateWorks Australia: defacto national target set by state actions of 37-42%

For Australia to be in the ball park for dealing and to be taken seriously at the UN climate talks it really needs to match the commitments of USA, Europe and UK. The lower end of that range is 46 to 50 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 on 2005 baseline. The Climate Council says a science based target is for Australia to aim to reduce emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2035.

At the moment Prime Minister Morrison is taking to the G20 and Glasgow COP26 a commitment for net zero by 2050, but no change in 2030 climate targets as submitted in our NDC, no plan to increase our climate finance to our fair share, and no indication we will sign on to the Global Methane Pledge.

Let me reprise a little bit of recent history:

Setting the 2030 target in 2015 for Paris

The Climate Change Authority in July 2015, after assessing the climate science, economics and comparable country targets advocated that Australia should go to Paris COP21 in 2015 with the following targets:

  • a 2025 target of 30 per cent below 2000 levels
  • further reductions by 2030 of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels (equivalent of 45%-63% cut by 2030 compared with 2005)

"The Authority considers these recommendations constitute a credible package for the Australian government to take to the Paris Climate Conference in December."(1)

Instead, the Australian Government at that time lead by Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Australia's 2030 target would be:

  • 26-28 percent emissions reduction by 2030 based on 2005 levels.

Notice this is half of what the recommended target was, and once you consider the baseline moved forward, it is even less of a reduction than that recommended by the Climate Change Authority. Why was a 2005 baseline chosen? Because it was near the peak of Australia's emissions so a percentage reduction would look better.

"The choice of 2005 as a base year results in a larger percentage reduction number than if the year 2000 or (say) 2012 was used. That is because 2005 was near the high-water mark for Australia’s emissions." said Frank Jotzo at The Conversation in August 2015 when Australia's targets for Paris were announced. (2)

Targets in the 2019 Federal election

Labor took to the election an interim target of 45 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. They were hammered by the Coalition messaging scaremongering on the cost of action (while the costs of inaction were ignored by Coalition MPs and largely not pursued or investigated by the media) that this would destroy the economy. In fact Labor's 45% 2030 target was the bare minimum for a deep decarbonisation pathway. 

The Coalition kept with the 26-28% emissions reduction target and the shonky scheme of using Kyoto carryover credits to partially meet this target.

Only the Greens of the 3 major parties had a climate policy and climate target consistent with the science of an emissions cut by between 63% and 82% by 2030 compared with 2005, and zero emissions by 2040.(4)

Climateworks 2021 modelling of 2030 targets

The Coalition’s rolling deliberation comes as a recent report by ClimateWorks Australia, a thinktank connected to Monash University, found promised state and territory action had already guaranteed substantial action across Australia (3):

  • all set net zero by 2050 targets
  • set de facto national targets for 2030 equivalent to a 37-42% emissions cut
  • 55% of electricity coming from renewable energy and 
  • at least 30% of new cars sold being electric.
  • In Buildings , Australia leading the world on solar uptake, with increased action in energy efficiency and electrification.
  • In Industry, Agriculture and Land - the harder-to-abate sectors – governments are beginning to address emissions and institute policies that will drive the changes needed this decade.

Climateworks indicates a deep decarbonisation pathway 2030 climate target consistent with the science to limit temperatures to 1.5C  in Australia would be:

  • Total annual emissions are 48-74 per cent lower than 2005 levels
  • Renewables generate 70-79 per cent of electricity
  • Electric vehicles represent 50-76 per cent of new car sales.
Business Council of Australia advocates 46-50% 2030 emissions reduction target

The Business Council of Australia announced on 10 October support for Net zero by 2050, and also 46 to 50 per cent 2030 emissions reduction target. 

A related report commissioned by the Business Council of Australia, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF-Australia released on 14 October 2021 projected that rapid action in clean energy transition  could create 395,000 new jobs and generate $89 billion in new trade by 2040 through investment in clean energy exports. The report explores six clean export opportunities in clean energy, technologies and services that can fuel Australia’s growth in the low emissions economy. See Blog: Business, Unions, Environment Organisations outline Australian clean energy transition vital for jobs and new export revenues

Science Based Target for 2030

In terms of a science based target, The Climate Council in the April 2021 report, Aim High, Go Fast: Why Emissions Need to Plummet this Decade, articulated that Australia should aim to reduce emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2035. "This is a fair and achievable contribution to the global task and an imperative given our high vulnerability to escalating extreme weather." they said in the report.(5)

The Climate Council Paris to Glasgow report takes stock of the world’s response to the climate crisis and what Australia needs to deliver if it is to play its part in protecting future generations and meeting Paris Agreement commitments and realise the economic benefits of stronger action.(6)

Update 25 October: Senate Estimates questioning confirms 2030 target not being updated

An interchange between the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Jo Evans, a deputy secretary in the department of industry, science, energy and resources department highlighted that 2030 target not being updated before COP26, reported the Guardian live page.

Hanson-Young: The NDC (nationally determined contribution) does require commitment, doesn’t it? Not just aspiration.

Evans: Well we have already taken that and there is a commitment in our existing NDC and that is the target that has already been communicated.

Hanson-Young: The Tony Abbott target?

Evans: The target of the Australian government that was set under Paris in 2015.

Hanson-Young: So that won’t change?

Evans: That target, which was set at 2015 and which is for 2030, is not changing.

Source: Climate Council: from Paris to Glasgow report, 21 October, 2021

Source: Climate Council: from Paris to Glasgow report, 21 October, 2021

Source: Climate Council: from Paris to Glasgow report, 21 October, 2021

Source: Climate Council: from Paris to Glasgow report, 21 October, 2021


(1) July 2015, Climate Change Authority,  Final report on Australia’s future emissions reduction targets 

(2) Frank Jotzo, August 2015, The Conversation,  Australia’s 2030 climate target puts us in the race, but at the back

(3) Climateworks Australia, 14 October 2021, State and territory climate action: Leading policies and programs in Australia

(4) Adam Morton, The Guardian, 12 May 2019, The climate change election: where do the parties stand on the environment?

(5) Professor Will Steffen, Professor Lesley Hughes, Dr Simon Bradshaw, Dinah Arndt, Dr Simon Rice, Climate Council, 15 April 2021, Aim High, Go Fast: Why Emissions Need to Plummet this Decade 

(6) Professor Tim Flannery, Professor Will Steffen, Professor Lesley Hughes, Dr Simon Bradshaw, Dr Wesley Morgan, Dr Annika Dean, Rebekah Smith, Tim Baxter, Climate Council, 21 October 2021, From Paris to Glasgow: A World on the Move

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