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.