Australia’s new emissions target is not “squarely in the middle of comparable economies” as the PM claimed. Towards the bottom of the pack of comparable countries, on key indicators. But Australia is coming to the party, and that counts for a lot.
It means the target is not obstructing international progress. And it will put the spotlight back on the opportunities for a lower carbon economy, and the policy instruments to get there.
Australia’s emissions target is a 26-28% reduction at 2030 in national emissions compared to 2005 levels. It can be viewed through different prisms and compared across different metrics.
Ratchet up later?
Fundamentals first. Australia’s 2030 target is not compatible with the internationally agreed 2C goal. It falls far short of what would be a commensurate Australian contribution to such an outcome. The Climate Change Authority in its Targets and Progress Review showed a 40-60% reduction at 2030 (relative to 2000 levels) as compatible with a 2C emissions budget.
Modelling done for our Deep Decarbonisation Pathways study, again for a 2C compatible scenario, showed Australia’s emissions cut in half at 2030.
That said, most other developed countries’ targets also fall short of the 2C mark, though generally by less than Australia’s target. The take-home message is that ambition will need to be ratcheted up in the years after the Paris climate conference.
And there is every reason to believe that this is possible. Time and time again, the experience has been that emissions reductions come cheaper than expected. Many emissions savings technologies have developed more rapidly and became cheaper more quickly than expected – just think of solar panels and LED lights.
Most existing emissions trading schemes achieve their targets at prices that are lower than was expected. Some have already lifted ambition in return.
We know that Australia can make the transition to a low carbon economy, by replacing coal in the power system with renewables (and in part nuclear if you wish, or carbon capture and storage if it works), harvesting the potential for energy efficiency across the economy, and modernising industries.
But how to get even a 26-28% reduction?
Australia currently has no credible plan for how the target could be achieved. The Renewable Energy Target has been slashed, and the Emissions Reductions Fund (ERF) in its present form will only have a marginal effect, at a big cost to the taxpayer.
It is far-fetched for the ERF subsidy mechanism to achieve significant absolute emissions reductions, and the discussion of new policy in Australia’s official statement is vague.
And so there is a risk Australia’s latest pledge will be seen as an empty promise because there is precious little to back it up.
To achieve reductions in domestic emissions will require significant and sustained policy effort. For reductions to be achieved cost-effectively, a consistent, broad-based policy effort is needed. And crucially, investors need to regain trust after many years of bruising political fights over climate change and the resulting policy uncertainty.
Then there is always the option of buying international emissions permits or credits, which could be part of a cost-effective solution or a cheap cop-out, depending on the rules and depending on your point of view. At the end of the day though, we need to get a transition underway domestically, and that means domestic action.
But back to the first question: where are we in the pack, on the way to Paris?
Australia’s target for reduction in absolute emissions is significantly weaker than that of the United States and the EU, a little weaker than Canada’s, and a little stronger than Japan’s.
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.
A key feature of the target is that the annual rate of emissions reductions to meet the target steps up during the 2020s, to 1.9% per year. This is slightly higher than the other countries in the comparison, except the US which are targeting a reduction of 2.8% per year during the first half of the 2020s.
In per capita terms, Australia’s target implies a halving of per capita emissions over a 25-year timespan, a similar reduction rate as expected in the US and Canada, and a much faster reduction than in the EU and Japan where populations are stable.
But Australia does of course have a long way to come down, from its position of highest emissions levels per capita among all major countries. And per capita emissions would remain higher than the other countries looked at here, assuming population growth continues at the rates observed over the last decade.
A full comparative analysis would include modelling of the economic effects of Australia’s emissions target and different ways of meeting it, in comparison to other countries targets. To date such modelling is not available – and it is a fair assumption that global views of Australia’s target will be formed without reference to any economic modelling.
Expectations and perceptions
The coming weeks and months will tell, but my expectation is that internationally, Australia’s target is likely to be perceived as falling short in its ambition relative to Australia’s opportunities to cut emissions. But at the same time it will not be seen as falling catastrophically short, nor as an active obstruction of the international process.
Indeed, given the widespread perception that the Australian government looks out for the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of all else, the target announcement could be seen as step towards meaningful engagement on climate change.
In the eyes of the world we might just have reclaimed our traditional position as laggard in international climate change efforts, moving up a rung or two from presumed recalcitrant. There’s still quite a way to go on that ladder.
A numerical comparison of targets is available here.
Jennifer Firn, Queensland University of Technology; Andrew Reeson, CSIRO; Belinda Walters, CSIRO; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; Iadine Chadès, CSIRO; Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, CSIRO; Josie Carwardine, CSIRO; Ramona Maggini, The University of Queensland; Rocio Ponce-Reyes, CSIRO; Sam Nicol, CSIRO, and Tara Martin, CSIRO
Australia’s Lake Eyre is perhaps best known as the continent’s largest lake, and for the rare floods that bring the desert to life.
But Lake Eyre is much more than a lake. Taking into account the rivers that drain into it and where they come from, the Lake Eyre Basin is one of largest inland draining systems in the world, the size of Germany, France and Italy combined. It is home to many natural wonders, such as Uluru, and many species of threatened wildlife.
It is also threatened by invasive animals and plants, and climate change. How can we best protect the basin, given finite funds?
In two studies (published this week in Global Change Biology and the Journal of Applied Ecology) and in two CSIRO reports we show that managing feral pigs is one of the most effective ways to ensure the basin remains healthy in the future.
Introducing Lake Eyre (Kati Thanda)
Ecosystems in the Lake Eyre Basin are intimately connected when rainfall is high and water is flowing through three major river systems. Decisions within the four states that manage the basin – Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales – will impact neighbouring habitats.
Australia’s Lake Eyre Basin covers 120 million hectares. This huge area of the outback has a rich and thriving Indigenous culture stretching back tens of thousands of years, with Indigenous people making up 40-90% of the population.
The basin contains natural and cultural assets such as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Uluru, Coongie Lakes and other internationally important wetlands.
There are threatened “mound springs” (EPBC Act 1999, which are permanent wetlands in arid ecosystems fed by the water from the Great Artesian Basin that provide refuge for at least 13 plant species and 65 animal species that occur nowhere else on earth.
The basin is also home to many other unique, rare, threatened species such as the greater bilby, yellow-footed rock wallaby, night parrot, grey falcon and letter-winged kite.
Threats to the basin
Invasive species and climate change are two things scientists are most concerned about in the Lake Eyre Basin.
The basin is already characterised by a highly variable climate and climate change impacts are predicted to increase this variability.
Significant pressures are threatening the natural systems of the Lake Eyre basin, with exotic animals’ and plants’ establishment and spread being major concerns.
Climate change is also a major concern as it is altering the habitat suitability for many native species and may increase the severity of other threats, such as invasive species.
Invasive animals can reproduce and spread quickly, as they are highly adaptable to changing weather and biotic conditions. This combined pressure from climate change and invasive animals will impact on threatened native species already disadvantaged by habitat and environmental conditions.
We estimated that 29 species (including the greater bilby) would be at risk of extinction thanks to climate change, unless we manage other threats.
Getting our priorities right
Management across such a large area like the basin is expensive, so smart decisions are necessary to make sure resources are used as efficiently as possible.
So we want to know managing which invasive species will give us the most bang for our buck. And we want to know that it will continue to pay off under a changing climate.
We combined local knowledge, scientific data and analyses to develop an efficient and rational set of strategies for managing the negative impacts of invasive species – the priority threat management approach.
After comparing 11 different strategies for managing invasive species (including dogs, cats, camels and rabbits) we found managing feral pigs proved the most cost-effective strategy overall.
Pigs impact many different native species (including flora and fauna). Experts estimated that pig control would have the highest uptake, a moderate cost and one of the highest benefits for threatened species.
The benefit for threatened native wildlife of controlling pigs was estimated to decrease when the climate change scenario was considered.
While managing pigs overall was the best strategy, if we focus on threatened mammals we find, perhaps unsurprisingly, that managing feral predators such as cats, dogs, and foxes is the best option.
Invasive animals also impact on agriculture so managing them for biodiversity increases agricultural productivity. We found that managing predators (cats, dogs and foxes), goats and rabbits, would potentially increase agricultural productivity by 10% or more.
We also found we would need to reduce invasive plants by 30% to reduce their impact, particularly parkinsonia, chinee apple and mesquite.
We have limited funds for protecting Australia’s environment. Prioritising what action we take can help preserve our unique biodiversity now and into the future.
Jennifer Firn is Associate professor at Queensland University of Technology.
Andrew Reeson is Behavioural Economist at CSIRO.
Belinda Walters is Research Support Officer at CSIRO.
Hugh Possingham is Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at The University of Queensland.
Iadine Chadès is Senior research scientist at CSIRO.
Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt is Senior Research Fellow in Ecology at CSIRO.
Josie Carwardine is Research Scientist, Ecosystem Sciences at CSIRO.
Ramona Maggini is Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Queensland.
Rocio Ponce-Reyes is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CSIRO.
Sam Nicol is Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecosystem Sciences at CSIRO.
Tara Martin is Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO.
The link below is to an article that lists the ’10 most dangerous animals in Australia.’ However, you may find some of these animals not quite as dangerous as the author of this article would have you believe.