New analysis: Australia can halve emissions by 2030

Anna Skarbek, Monash University and Amandine Denis, Monash University

Australia can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to analysis by ClimateWorks.

The federal government is currently considering what Australia’s post-2020 emissions target should be, and is expected to announce its decision in the coming weeks.

Many other countries have already announced their pledges, and various groups in Australia have called on the government to commit to a strong target.

Building on our Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050 project, our analysis shows that we can strongly reduce emissions using existing technology and while still growing the economy.

Australia’s emissions reduction potential

Australia emitted 535.9 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent in the year to September 2014. Our analysis shows we can reduce emissions to 300 million tonnes by 2030 – the equivalent of a 51% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels.

We have used the year 2005 as a reference level given that it is the baseline year used by the United States and Canada. Australia’s current unconditional target is 5% below 2000 levels by 2020. If we used the year 2000 as a reference, our results are equivalent to a reduction of 46% below 2000 levels by 2030, as emissions were 50 million tonnes higher in 2005 than in 2000.

Many countries have already announced their post 2020 emissions reduction targets. For instance, the US post-2020 target is 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. If we convert other targets to 2005 levels by 2025, we find the European Union reduces emissions by 23%, the United Kingdom by 41% and Canada by 24%.

If Australia is to match the United States emissions reduction target in 2025, it would need to be doing over 85% of the proposed abatement actions.

How Australia can achieve strong emissions reductions

Our analysis identifies major opportunities to reduce emissions across five key sectors – electricity, agriculture and forestry, transport, industry and buildings.

It shows that doing cost effective energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport would bring Australia’s emissions back to 2005 levels by 2030.

Then, switching to renewable energy in the electricity sector and using this zero emissions electricity to replace fossil fuels in other sectors would help further reduce emissions to 25% below 2005 levels.

Carbon forestry and agricultural improvements can achieve a similar amount of abatement and bring emissions down to around 45% below 2005 levels.

Further actions to switch fossil fuels to biofuels and gas, as well as reduce industrial non-energy emissions can bring Australia’s emissions down to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Importantly, meeting a 50% reduction target by 2030 is achievable entirely within Australia and without the need to buy carbon permits overseas. Undertaking these actions would also set Australia on a path for net zero emissions by 2050 and fulfil our international obligations to contribute to limit global warming to 2 degrees.

How each sector contributes to reducing emissions

The analysis shows that each sector can contribute a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions:

The electricity sector can achieve 137 million tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement by shifting away from coal-fired power stations and accelerating the uptake of solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy, as well as wind and other renewables, and through improving the efficiency and emissions intensity of the remaining fossil fuel generation.

Agriculture and forestry can achieve 111 million tonnes of abatement by reducing deforestation and increasing carbon farming on less profitable agricultural land, as well as by implementing best-practice agriculture.

Transport can achieve 72 million tonnes of abatement by improving energy efficiency in new passenger and freight vehicles, increasing the uptake of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, and by switching to gas and bioenergy for freight transport.

Industry can achieve 71 million tonnes of abatement by improving the energy efficiency of industrial practices, assets and equipment, shifting industrial equipment and processes from fossil fuels to electricity, gas and bioenergy, and developing carbon capture and storage and implementing best practice to reduce industrial process and fugitive emissions.

Buildings can achieve 39 million tonnes of abatement by ensuring new buildings are as efficient as possible, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings, appliances and switching building equipment from gas to electricity.


This analysis shows Australia can achieve an ambitious emissions reduction target without major structural changes to its economy or lifestyle. What is required, however, is a major uptake of technologies right across the economy to drive strong emissions reductions.

*The lead image has been updated.

The Conversation

Anna Skarbek is CEO at ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University.
Amandine Denis is Head of Research, ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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What does the Dutch court ruling on climate targets mean for Australia?

Katherine Lake, University of Melbourne

In a landmark ruling, The Hague District Court has ordered the Netherlands government to take more action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The verdict is a victory for Urgenda, the non-profit that brought the case against the government. The decision will see Dutch emissions fall by at least 25% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels, rather than the previous 14-17% target.

This is the first successful climate change action founded in tort law and the first time a court has determined the appropriate emissions-reduction target for a state, based on the duty of care owed to its people.

Could such a case be brought in Australia? And what are the broader implications for Australia in how it positions itself on climate change?

What did the Court say?

Urgenda, on behalf of 886 individuals, brought the case on the basis that the Netherlands’ declared emission reduction was insufficient to protect its people from dangerous climate change. This case was not about whether climate change exists, but rather the pace at which the state needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Urgenda’s central argument was that the Netherlands’ emissions-reduction target of 14-17% fell short in its duty of care to its citizens.

The court drew on a range of legal sources, both domestic and international, to find that the Netherlands owed a duty of care to its citizens to take mitigation measures. It said:

…the possibility of damages for those whose interests Urgenda represents, including current and future generations of Dutch nationals, is so great and concrete that given its duty of care, the state must make an adequate contribution, greater than its current contribution, to prevent hazardous climate change.

Significantly, the court assessed the range of climate scenarios compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude that an emissions reduction of 25-40% by 2020 from 1990 levels was the scientifically proven standard for developed countries based on climate science and international climate policy.

The court said that postponing mitigation efforts by committing to a lower 2020 target of 14% would result in higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and would thus contribute to the risk of dangerous climate change. The court also highlighted that there was no plausible economic argument that a 25% target was out of the Netherlands’ reach.

Could such a case be brought in Australia?

The case highlights the parallels to the current debate about what a responsible and acceptable emissions reduction target for Australia should be. Given the Abbott government’s reluctance so far to follow expert advice on an appropriate target, it begs the question of whether a similar case court be brought in an Australian court.

The Netherlands has much broader laws than Australia around “standing”, which determines which people or groups have the right to sue over a particular issue. The Dutch standing laws explicitly recognise the right of environmental groups to bring an action to protect “the general rights of other persons”.

But in Australia, environmental groups generally have to show a “special interest” in the subject of the action, beyond that of the general public. This has been a stumbling block for public interest environmental litigation in Australia.

There has also been a reluctance by the Australian courts to find a causal nexus between climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions of individuals and organisations. The view that the role of the common law is to protect private rights and cannot be invoked to protect public rights or the environment has held sway.

Having said that, in Australia there have been no climate change actions based solely on tort to date, and therefore the laws have not been tested. If a group satisfies the standing test, then it may be able to meet the requirements of a tort action, in particular to prove a sufficient causal link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the harm caused to its people (present and future). It is possible that if the government’s intransigence on climate change action continues, the courts in Australia will be increasingly called on to decide questions such as those raised in the Netherlands case.

What are the wider legal implications for Australia?

While the decision of the Dutch court was made in a domestic setting, it has broad international implications, particularly for developed countries such as Australia. Besides the growing diplomatic pressure on Australia to step up its action on climate change, there is, for the first time, judicial evidence to compel developed countries to take serious action.

Measured against the Dutch court’s verdict on a fair and reasonable target for a rich nation, Australia’s current 5% target looks inadequate. The spotlight will increasingly be on Australia to justify this target in light of the decision.

Significantly, the judges drew heavily on international developments and the work of the IPCC to support their findings. As cases like this are brought in more countries around the world – similar cases are set to be heard in Belgium and Norway – it may be more likely that courts in Australia will draw on similar international resources to come to similar conclusions on the level of care required by governments to protect their citizens from harm.

As the precedents for these sorts of actions grow, it is also more likely that we will see international legal actions brought against countries such as Australia, for instance by the people of Pacific Island nations.

Moreover, the decision of the Netherlands court represents an alarm call for developed countries who can afford to do more to address climate change, but who are so far failing to take responsible action within a reasonable time frame.

The Conversation

Katherine Lake is Research Associate at the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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