Despite leading rhetoric around the need for other countries to lift their ambition to reduce greenhouse emissions in response to climate change, Australia’s own pledges are decidedly uninspiring.
On the opening day of COP18, the latest round of UN climate change negotiations, Australia announced its intention to push ahead with the unconditional five percent reduction in emissions by 2020 from 2000 levels.
In a submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Australia revealed that it intends to reduce emissions to 99.5 percent of 1990 levels over the next eight years. Again, this goal comes with caveats, to ensure the outcomes of COP18 are consistent with Australia’s national interests.
The Australian Government argues that while the new target appears relatively inconsequential on the surface, it still represents a significant mitigation challenge. When compared to what Australia’s level of emissions were forecasted to be in the absence of a carbon price, this new goal represents an average reduction in emissions of 12 percent across the eight year commitment period between 2013 and 2020.
However, with the Carbon Price Mechanism now operating, the announced Kyoto target very much represents a new but still business as usual case for Australia. Minimal additional effort is now required on behalf of the Australian Government to meet this new target.
In defending the unexpected weak target, Australia pointed to it’s compliance with previously agreed upon rules. Disturbingly, the methodology does not consider the work already undertaken to reduce emissions over the last few years. Australia is setting itself a goal that is easier than what it has a realistic capacity to achieve.
Carbon permits sourced from overseas are again set to become a major contributor to Australia’s mitigation efforts. Based on recent forecasting completed by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Australia will rely on international permits to meet roughly half of its new Kyoto pledge.
It is this demand for international permits that motivates the Australian Government to ensure it retains access to offset schemes like the Clean Development Mechanism, and ensuring “appropriate” rules round the carry over of surplus permits from the first commitment period. These are strong caveats placed on Australia’s pledge and limit any possible increase in ambition.
It is concerning when this is what the Australian Government sees as “playing its fair part in effective global action.”
They can do better.
By Michael Mazengarb, photo by Laura Owsianka. Here’s a satirical version of this article.