Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause


Peter Christoff, The University of MelbourneResurrected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is back in the saddle, facing backwards. His determination to prevent the Morrison government from adopting a target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 will again delay the renovation of Australia’s climate policy.

The Nationals’ leadership spill reportedly followed growing disquiet about Morrison’s slow pivot towards a net-zero by 2050 goal. Many Nationals MPs have indicated they don’t back the target, and Joyce says he will be “guided by the party room” on the issue.

If Morrison eventually gets the 2050 target past Joyce and passed by the joint party room, there will be little cause for celebration. In fact, the achievement will be as exciting as watching a vaudeville magician wrench an old rabbit out of a moth-eaten hat.

Australia’s premiers will yawn in unison. Every state and territory in the country has already adopted this target, or better. Yet at the end of the day, net-zero by 2050 is a risky and inadequate goal, especially for wealthy nations such as Australia.

two men and a woman
Barnaby Joyce, centre, says the Nationals’ stance on a zero-emissions target will be guided by the party room.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

A target is nothing without a plan to get there

All G7 states and 11 G20 members are aiming for net-zero emissions by mid-century. These include the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, the Republic of Korea, Italy, the European Union, Argentina and the United States. China, the world’s largest emitter, has committed to net-zero by 2060.

However, as international environment law expert Professor Lavanya Rajamani has argued, net-zero targets should not automatically be applauded. First, they should be checked for their credibility, accountability and fairness. On these measures, a net-zero by 2050 target for Australia is nothing to cheer.

Why? First, because a target is nothing without an effective strategy to get there – something Australia is sorely lacking.

To successfully achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, tough short- and medium-term targets are essential to staying on track. Victoria, for example, has pledged to halve carbon emissions by 2030. The UK is aiming for a 78% reduction by 2035, reflecting its confidence in existing and emerging technologies.




Read more:
‘Failure is not an option’: after a lost decade on climate action, the 2020s offer one last chance


The Morrison government’s 2030 target – a 26-28% reduction below 2005 emissions levels – is not credible. Experts say a 2030 target of between 50% and 74% is needed to put Australia in line with keeping warming below 2℃ and 1.5℃ respectively – the goals of the Paris Agreement.

So what about Australia’s actual emissions-reduction measures? The Morrison government’s technology-first approach falls short of what’s needed to drive quick and deep emissions cuts.

Reaching net-zero requires substantial government funding and tax relief for investors in renewable technologies. Morrison’s announcement of an additional A$540 million for new technologies is insufficient and partly misdirected.

For instance, the government is investing in carbon capture and storage. As others have argued, the technology is increasingly commercially unviable and encourages further fossil fuel use.

In the meantime, the government is failing to assist the uptake of proven technologies such as electric vehicles, despite transport being Australia’s third-worst sector for emissions.

Close up of words on car reading 'zero emissions'
The Morrison government has failed to invest in electric vehicles.
Shutterstock

2050 goal is risky business

Even if Australia adopted a goal of net-zero by 2050, and measures to get there comfortably, the target is risky.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the potentially catastrophic impacts of exceeding 1.5℃ global warming. In the same report it established the idea of “net zero” as a global aim, saying achieving the target by 2050 was needed to stay below that warming threshold.

The IPCC described the emissions-reduction pathways required, but failed to emphasise crucial assumptions underlying them. Most depended on “negative emissions” – drawing down carbon from the atmosphere.

Many of those presumed drawdown measures involve land use measures that potentially threaten biodiversity or food security, for instance by requiring farmland and virgin forests to be used for growing “carbon crops”. Others involve geo-engineeering technologies which are yet to be tested or proven safe at scale.

It’s a risky strategy to avoid rapid, substantial and real emissions cuts in favour of gradual mitigation pathways that rely on such future carbon drawdown. It locks us into technologies which are problematic or don’t yet exist. To limit these risks, Australia must aim for net-zero well before 2050, predominantly via actual emissions cuts.




Read more:
Even without new fossil fuel projects, global warming will still exceed 1.5℃. But renewables might make it possible


bleached coral
The IPCC warned of catastrophic climate impacts, such as coral bleaching.
Shutterstock

A matter of fairness

The matter of equity is another where policymakers have been inattentive to nuance. The undifferentiated call for net-zero by 2050 shifts the burden and costs of effort onto poorer countries. No wonder so many developed countries have been happy to adopt it!

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement each require developed countries to cut emissions faster than poorer countries – and to assist poorer countries in their efforts. This recognises the fact developed nations are largely responsible for global warming, and have the wealth and technological capacities to act.

Developing nations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as those in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and Africa, are mostly below global average wealth. Forcing them to meet the same net-zero timeframe as rich nations is patently unfair.

And for the international community to achieve even the 2050 goal, China – a global emissions giant – must increase its ambition to at least net-zero by 2050 (rather than its current 2060 timeframe).

smoggy city skyline
China must accelerate its climate efforts.
Shutterstock

Morrison’s bind

It’s clear that rich developed countries must both aim for net-zero emissions well before 2050, and provide climate finance to assist poorer countries to do the same. Anything less will almost certainly guarantee Earth overshoots an already risky target.

Australia, given its wealth and technological means, must certainly aim for net-zero well before 2050. A report in April this year suggested reaching net-zero in 2035, to make a “fair and achievable contribution to the global task” and given our vulnerability to extreme weather.

The issue of climate finance was on the agenda at this month’s G7 summit, but critics say the final commitment – meeting an overdue spending pledge of US$100 billion a year – is inadequate considering the urgency of the task.

Just months out from a crucial UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, Scott Morrison is caught in a bind. On the global stage, he’s under increasing pressure to commit to a net-zero emissions target or face carbon tariffs. At home, he’s forced to assuage a minor coalition partner now led by a man who will reportedly push for a new coal-fired power station, and for agriculture – and potentially mining – to be exempt from emissions targets.

The looming general election will test whether rural voters are prepared to endure Joyce’s climate antics or will swing to savvy independents. And it remains to be seen whether urban voters will tolerate a prime minister whose transactional politics leaves Australia increasingly exposed at home and abroad.The Conversation

Peter Christoff, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor, Melbourne Climate Futures initiative, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Net zero won’t be achieved in inner city wine bars: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAs Scott Morrison gradually pivots his climate policy towards embracing a target of net zero emissions by 2050, he is seeking to distinguish the government from “inner city” types and political opponents who’ve been marching down that road for a long time.

The Prime Minister told a Business Council of Australia dinner on Monday the government was charting its own course “to ensure Australia is well placed to prosper through the great energy transition of our time, consistent with strong action on climate change”.

“The key to meeting our climate change ambitions is commercialisation of low emissions technology,” he said.

“We are going to meet our ambitions with the smartest minds, the best technology and the animal spirits of capitalism.”

Morrison was speaking ahead of this week’s two-day virtual summit on climate called by President Biden.

The Biden administration has made the issue a major policy priority, which has increased the pressure on Australia to sign up to the 2050 target before the Glasgow meeting on climate late in the year.

Morrison acknowledged that “we need to change our energy mix over the next 30 years on the road to net zero emissions”.

But he said “we will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities.

“It will not be achieved by taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet, as our political opponents sought to do, when they were given the chance.

“It will be achieved by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists.

“It will be won in places like the Pilbara, the Hunter, Gladstone, Portland, Whyalla, Bell Bay, and the Riverina.

“In the factories of our regional towns and outer suburbs. In the labs of our best research institutes and scientists.

“It will be won in our energy sector. In our industrial sector. In our agricultural sector. In our manufacturing sector.

“This is where the road to net zero is being paved in Australia. And those industries and all who work in them, will reap the benefits of the changes they are making and pioneering.”

Morrison said Australia’s natural resources and its industries’ strength presented “a huge opportunity to capitalise on the new energy economy”.

“And let’s not forget that Australia already produces many of the products that will be in growing demand as part of a low carbon future – from copper to lithium.

“It is this practical approach of making new technologies commercial that will see us achieve our goals.”

He said Australia was making real progress.

Its total emissions were 19% lower at the end of 2020 than in 2005.

“Our domestic emissions have already fallen by 36% from 2005 levels.

“Australia has deployed renewable energy ten times faster than the global average and four times faster than in Europe and the United States.

“One in four rooftops has solar, more than anywhere else in the world.

“Australia takes our emission reductions targets very seriously. We don’t make them lightly. We prepare our plan to achieve them and we follow through.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

Reports that Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is considering calling for carbon border levies at the G7 summit to be held in London in June have produced a predictable reaction from the Australian government.

The levies would impose tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from countries such as Australia that haven’t adopted a carbon price or a 2050 net-zero emissions target.

Appearing to be shocked by the news, Energy Minister Angus Taylor declared that Australia is “dead against” carbon tariffs.

They were a “new form of protectionism designed to shield local industries from free trade”.

In fact they are already the policy of the European Union and the US, where President Joe Biden calls them a “carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations”. Canada, which has an economy-wide price on carbon, isn’t worried.

Saying you’re dead against something doesn’t stop it, and nor does asserting that it is anti free trade, when it is just as arguable that it is pro fair trade because it denies exporters from countries that aren’t taking action against climate change an unfair advantage.

Australia not the primary target

The mining industry itself made this point during the Gillard government’s introduction of Australia’s short-lived carbon price.

It would leave Australian exporters at a “disadvantage compared with international competitors”.

Australia isn’t the primary target in any event. The main aim of carbon tariffs would be to encourage China’s leader Xi Jinping to shift his country’s zero emissions date from 2060 to 2050, benefiting the rest of the world.




Read more:
Vital Signs: a global carbon price could soon be a reality – Australia should prepare


If Xi Jinping does it, he’ll be on a level playing field with much of the world, although not with Australia, whose fate, like that of Britain’s Admiral Byng in 1757 would be used “to encourage the others”.

Complaining won’t much help. The International Monetary Fund has endorsed the idea, saying

in the absence of an agreement on carbon pricing – which would be by far preferable – applying the same carbon prices on the same products irrespective of where they are produced could help avoid shifting emissions out of the EU to countries with different standards

The World Trade Organisation, which has in the past has pushed back against environmental considerations in trade, is neutered.

World Trade Organisation powerless

In the late 1990s the WTO struck down a range of environmental restrictions imposed by the United States that required imported tuna to be labelled “dolphin safe” and required shrimp catchers to take action to protect turtles.

These decisions proved disastrous for the WTO, producing bitter hostility from the environmental movement and contributing to mass protests at the 1999 WTO meeting, which became known as the Battle of Seattle and ultimately killed the Doha round of trade negotiations.

Right now the WTO is in the organisational equivalent of an induced coma. By refusing to fill vacancies as they arose, the Trump Administration denied its appellate panel a quorum, forcing it to stop hearing cases.

President Donald Trump, neutered the World Trade Organisation.
AP

The result is that any appeal to the WTO against carbon border tariffs would be left in limbo. US President Joe Biden has agreed to the appointment of a new WTO director general, stalled by Trump, but is in no hurry to re-establish the appellate body.

Instead, he will first try to refashion the WTO into an organisation that supports his own policies, among them stronger environmental measures, carbon tariffs and “Buy American” provisions. When reformed, the appellate body will give complaints from Australia’s government short shrift.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown some signs of recognising these realities, making baby steps towards announcing a 2050 zero emissions target.

But time is short. Morrison will have to either face down the denialists and do-nothingists on his own side of politics, or set himself, and Australia, up for a series of humiliations on the international stage, with real and damaging consequences.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Now Scott Morrison’s ‘preference’ is for net zero emissions by 2050


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has taken another, albeit very small, step towards endorsing a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

He told the National Press Club on Monday: “Our goal is to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”.

This follows his previous wording of wanting net zero “as quickly as possible”.

It remains unclear whether the baby steps will lead to his embracing the 2050 target later this year. But he’d almost certainly like to do so – it would undoubtedly smooth the way with the Biden administration as well as putting Australia in a better position for the Glasgow climate conference in November.

But there are pesky Nationals (and a few others) ready to make the road rocky.

The next climate test for Morrison is President Biden’s planned leaders’ climate summit on Earth Day, April 22.

Climate is at the centre of the Biden agenda, which makes the April summit particularly important.

The President’s climate envoy John Kerry told a White House press briefing last week: “the convening of … this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years and that the U.N. Climate Conference — COP26, as it’s called, which the UK is hosting in November — to make sure that it is an unqualified success”.

Kerry spoke to energy minister Angus Taylor last week when, according to the Australia readout of the discussion, Kerry “welcomed Australia’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible”.

As, perhaps, one might welcome an infant’s early progress.

Asked on Monday whether he expected to attend the Biden climate conference, Morrison replied cautiously, on the basis of lack of information.

Perhaps he didn’t want to take any risks. In December he was embarrassed when an expected invitation to a speaking spot at the “climate ambition summit” hosted by Britain, France and the United Nations didn’t eventuate. Australia was judged as not having sufficient “ambition” to warrant a slot.

“ At this stage, we haven’t received the details or nature of the event,” Morrison said of the April gathering.

“As you can appreciate, things are very busy over in the White House at the moment.”

When details were received, “then I’m sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne and I, and Angus Taylor, and others, will discuss what is the best way for us to participate in that and how that will work.

“But we welcome it and we look forward to supporting it.”

Maybe there’ll be more to know when Morrison speaks to Biden. As of Monday, the PM was still waiting fot his first post-inauguration call from the President (they spoke after the election). The Prime Minister’s Office could only say the call was expected “within coming days”.

Morrison on Monday repeated strongly his mantra of advancing climate policy by “technology” not “tax”.

If he does move to the 2050 target, the rationale he will give for the shift will be the progress of technology.

“My commitment to Australians that I will not tax our way to net zero by 2050 is a very, very important one and I will hold my faith with the Australian people on those issues. So we will see how the technology develops,” he said.

If he wished, he obviously could use “technology” at any point as his cover for changing his position. The issue will be if and when he thinks he has the political cover.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to reverse global wildlife declines by 2050


Wouter Taljaard/Shutterstock

Michael Obersteiner, University of Oxford; David Leclère, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and Piero Visconti, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

Species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate. Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds over the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund. The sharpest declines have occurred throughout the world’s rivers and lakes, where freshwater wildlife has plummeted by 84% since 1970 – about 4% per year.

But why should we care? Because the health of nature is intimately linked to the health of humans. The emergence of new infectious diseases like COVID-19 tend to be related to the destruction of forests and wilderness. Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of today’s global economies and societies, and the ones we aspire to build. As more and more species are drawn towards extinction, the very life support systems on which civilisation depends are eroded.

Even for hard-nosed observers like the World Economic Forum, biodiversity loss is a disturbing threat with few parallels. Of the nine greatest threats to the world ranked by the organisation, six relate to the ongoing destruction of nature.

A digger tears down trees in a Malaysian rainforest.
New infectious diseases tend to emerge in places at the forefront of environmental destruction.
Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Economic systems and lifestyles which take the world’s generous stocks of natural resources for granted will need to be abandoned, but resisting the catastrophic declines of wildlife that have occurred over the last few decades might seem hopeless. For the first time, we’ve completed a science-based assessment to figure out how to slow and even reverse these trends.

Our new paper in Nature featured the work of 60 co-authors and built on efforts steered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. We considered ambitious targets for rescuing global biodiversity trends and produced pathways for the international community to follow that could allow us to meet these goals.




Read more:
How forest loss has changed biodiversity across the globe over the last 150 years


Bending the curve

The targets of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity call for global trends of terrestrial wildlife to stop declining and start recovering by 2050 or earlier. Changes in how land is used – from pristine forest to cropland or pasture – rank among the greatest threats to biodiversity on land worldwide. So what are the necessary conditions for biodiversity to recover during the 21st century while still supporting growing and affluent human societies?

Two key areas of action stand out from the rest. First, there must be renewed ambition from the world’s governments to establish large-scale conservation areas, placed in the most valuable hotspots for biodiversity worldwide, such as small islands with species found nowhere else. These reserves, in which wildlife will live and roam freely, will need to cover at least 40% of the world’s land surface to help bend the curve from decline to recovery for species and entire ecosystems.

The location of these areas, and how well they are managed, is often more important than how big they are. Habitat restoration and conservation efforts need to be targeted where they are needed most – for species and habitats on the verge of extinction.

A downward sloping line showing wildlife declines splits into three alternative trajectories, where biodiversity increases, plateaus and crashes by 2050.
The next 30 years will prove pivotal for Earth’s biodiversity.
Leclère et al. (2020), Author provided

Second, we must transform our food systems to produce more on less land. If every farmer on Earth used the best available farming practices, only half of the total area of cropland would be needed to feed the world. There are lots of other inefficiencies that could be ironed out too, by reducing the amount of waste produced during transport and food processing, for example. Society at large can help in this effort by shifting towards healthier and more sustainable diets, and reducing food waste.

This should happen alongside efforts to restore degraded land, such as farmland that’s becoming unproductive as a result of soil erosion, and land that’s no longer needed as agriculture becomes more efficient and diets shift. This could return 8% of the world’s land to nature by 2050. It will be necessary to plan how the remaining land is used, to balance food production and other uses with the conservation of wild spaces.

Without a similar level of ambition for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will ensure the world’s wildlife fares badly this century. Only a comprehensive set of policy measures that transform our relationship with the land and rapidly scale down pollution can build the necessary momentum. Our report concludes that transformative changes in our food systems and how we plan and use land will have the biggest benefits for biodiversity.

But the benefits wouldn’t end there. While giving back to nature, these measures would simultaneously slow climate change, reduce pressure on water, limit nitrogen pollution in the world’s waterways and boost human health. When the world works together to halt and eventually reverse biodiversity loss, it’s not only wildlife that will thrive.The Conversation

Michael Obersteiner, Director, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; David Leclère, Researcher in Ecosystem Services and Management (ESM) Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and Piero Visconti, Research Scholar, Ecosystem Services and Management Programme, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: a 3-point plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050



Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSW

Every January Larry Fink, the head of the world’s largest funds manager, BlackRock, sends a letter to the chief executives of major public companies.

This year’s letter focused on climate risk. “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote. To put sustainability at the centre of its investment approach, he said, BlackRock would stop investing in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk”.




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Now business leaders – even big money managers – express opinions all the time, and major companies keep doing what they are doing. But this was different.

Fink, who’s in charge of US$7 trillion (that’s not a typo – $7,000,000,000,000), says in his letter: “In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

It’s emphasised in bold type. That’s something to which chief executives pay attention.

Even before the letter was sent – but knowing what was coming – major US companies like Amazon, Delta Air Lines and Microsoft announced new climate action plans.

These three companies are in different industries with different abilities to take action. But the plans they’ve outlined illuminate the three key strategies needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Delta Air Lines

Delta, being an airline, burns a lot of fossil fuels. Bar an extraordinary technological shift in aircraft, it will burn a lot of fossil fuels well into the future.




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The airline’s goal by 2050 is to cut its carbon emissions to half the levels they were in 2005. It plans to do this through a combination of fuel-efficiency measures and helping spur the development of more sustainable jet fuels. In the medium term (up to 2035), its goal is “carbon-neutral growth”, buying carbon offsets for any increases in emissions from jet fuel due to business growth.

Delta Air Lines operates about 5,000 flights a day. Jet fuel accounts for about 99% of its total emissions.
Shutterstock

Let’s consider the economics of the Delta plan – at least up to 2035.

Buying carbon offsets increases the airline’s costs. These are passed on to customers – in which case it is simply a form of carbon tax – or paid for by shareholders through lower profits. I’m betting it’s not the shareholders who will pay.

So Delta is essentially imposing its own carbon tax in the hope customers who care about the environment will be more attracted to its brand or that other airlines follow suit.

Amazon

Amazon, which reported a carbon footprint of 44.4 million metric tons in 2018, is doing two broad things.

The company has a fleet of about 30,000 delivery vans. It plans to have 100,000 electric vehicles by 2024. This will reduce the company’s carbon footprint so long as the vans are charged with power from sustainable sources.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has also announced the Bezos Earth Fund, which will give away US$10 billion in grants to anyone with good ideas to address climate change or other environmental issues.

Again, let’s consider the basic economics at play here.

Moving to electric vehicles is a smart hedge against rising fuel costs from a price on carbon – something that already exists in California.

The Bezos Earth Fund, meanwhile, is an excellent example of taking money generated from maximising shareholder value – Amazon is valued at about US$1 trillion and Bezos’s personal fortune (pre-divorce) was about US$130 billion – and redistributing it to socially productive causes.

Microsoft

Finally, Microsoft – the least-carbon-intensive business of the three mentioned here – plans to be carbon-negative by 2030, and by 2050 to have offset all the emissions it has been responsible for (both directly and through electricity consumption) since its founding in 1975.

Since 2012 it has had an “internal carbon tax”, which in April 2019 was doubled to US$15 a tonne. This price mechanism is used to make Microsoft’s business divisions financially responsible for reducing emissions.

On top of this, Microsoft has developed the AI for Earth program, which provides cloud-computing tools for researchers working on sustainability issues to process data more effectively.

Lessons for Australia

Australia’s Coalition government and Labor opposition would do well to heed the lessons of these three companies.

Together they show three clear strategies:

  • a technological push to lower emissions
  • a price on carbon to drive technological innovation and uptake
  • clear goals to reduce emissions.

Our political parties both have one out of three. Right now Labor has announced a goal. The Coalition is promising a technology plan some time soon.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is right to criticise Labor for not having a plan. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is right to criticise the Coalition for not having a suitable goal.

But neither of them advocates a price on carbon, without which neither technology road maps nor ambitious goals will translate into sufficient emissions reductions.




Read more:
Carbon pricing: it’s a proven way to reduce emissions but everyone’s too scared to mention it


Technology investment, a carbon price and clear goals are all necessary to effectively reduce carbon emissions. Without all three we are bound to fail.

And we no longer have time for that, according to climate scientists.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s climate policy is too little, too late. We must run faster to win the race


Will Steffen, Australian National University

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s announcement on Friday that a Labor government would adopt a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 was a big step in the right direction. But a bit of simple maths reveals the policy is too little, too late.

Perhaps the most robust way to assess whether a proposed climate action is strong enough to meet a temperature target is to apply the “carbon budget” approach. A carbon budget is the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit to stay within a desired temperature target.

Once the budget is spent (in other words, the carbon dioxide is emitted), the world must have achieved net-zero emissions if the temperature target is to be met.

So let’s take a look at how Labor’s target stacks up against the remaining carbon budget.

Blowing the budget

The term “net-zero emissions” means any human emissions of carbon dioxide are cancelled out by the uptake of carbon by the Earth – such as by vegetation or soil – or that the emissions are prevented from entering the atmosphere, by using technology such as carbon capture and storage.

(The net-zero emissions concept is fraught with scientific complexities and the potential for perverse outcomes and unethical government policies – but that’s an article for another day.)

So let’s assume every country in the world adopted the net-zero-by-2050 target. This is a plausible assumption, as the UK, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany and many others have already done so.




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Yes, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere helps plants grow, but it’s no excuse to downplay climate change


What then should the world’s remaining carbon budget be, starting from this year?

The globally agreed Paris target aims to stabilise the global average temperature rise at 1.5℃ above the pre-industrial level, or at least keep the rise to well below 2℃.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that from 2020, the remaining 1.5℃ carbon budget is about 130 GtC (billion tonnes of carbon dioxide). This is based on a 66% probability that limiting further emissions to this level will keep warming below the 1.5℃ threshold.

Current global emissions are about 11.5 GtC per year. So at this rate, the budget would be blown in just 11 years.

How does Labor’s policy stack up?

This is where the “net-zero emissions by 2050” target fails. Even if the world met this target, and reduced emissions evenly over 30 years, cumulative global emissions would be about 170 GtC by 2050. That is well over the 130 GtC budget needed to limit warming to 1.5℃.

So how far would Labor’s target go towards limiting warming to 2℃?




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The carbon budget for that target is about 335 GtC. So a net-zero-by-2050 policy could, in principle, stabilise the climate at well below 2℃.

But a word of caution is needed here. The budgets I used above ignore two “jokers in the pack” that could slash the carbon budget and make the Paris targets much harder to achieve.

Jokers in the pack

The first joker is that the carbon budgets I used assume we will reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, at about the same rate we reduce carbon dioxide.

But these potent non-CO₂ gases, which primarily come from the agriculture
sector, are generally more difficult to curb than carbon dioxide. Because of this, the IPCC recognises the carbon budget may have to be reduced if these gases are emitted at amounts higher than assumed.

Given the large uncertainties in how fast we can reduce emissions of these non-CO₂ gases, I’ve taken a mid-range estimate of their effect on the 1.5℃ carbon budget and consequently lowered it by 50 Gt. (This value is based on a median non-CO₂ warming contribution as estimated by the IPCC.) This reduces the remaining carbon budget to only about 80 Gt.

Second, the carbon budgets do not include feedbacks in the climate system, such as forest dieback in the Amazon or melting permafrost. These processes are both caused by climate change, at least in part, and amplify it by releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Emissions caused by feedbacks are expected to increase as global average temperature rises. Under a 1.5℃ rise, feedback processes could emit about 70 Gt of carbon dioxide. When the 1.5℃ budget is adjusted for both non-CO2 greenhouse gases and feedbacks, this leaves just one year’s worth of global emissions in the bank.

The corresponding reductions for the 2℃ warming limit reduce its carbon budget to 160 GtC. This is less than the cumulative emissions of 170 GtC if every country adopted a net-zero-by-2050 policy.

What does effective climate action look like?

These calculations are confronting enough. But for Australia there is, in addition, a huge elephant in the room – or rather, in the coal mine.

Our exported emissions – those created when our coal, gas and other fossil fuels are burned overseas – are about 2.5 times more than our domestic emissions. Exported emissions are not counted on Australia’s ledger, but they all contribute to the escalating impacts of climate change – including the bushfires that devastated southeast Australia this summer.

So, what would an effective climate action plan look like? In my view, the central actions should be:

  • cut domestic emissions by 50% by 2030
  • move the net-zero target date forward to 2045, or, preferably 2040
  • ban new fossil fuel developments of any kind, for either export or domestic use

The striking students are right. We are in a climate emergency.

The net-zero-by-2050 policy is a step in the right direction but is not nearly enough. Our emission reduction actions must be ramped up even more – and fast – to give our children and grandchildren a fighting chance of a habitable planet.




Read more:
222 scientists say cascading crises are the biggest threat to the well-being of future generations


The Conversation


Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese pledges Labor government would have 2050 carbon-neutral target



AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese will commit a Labor government to adopting a target of zero net emissions by 2050, in a speech titled “Leadership in a New Climate” to be delivered on Friday.

The opposition leader’s embrace of this target, which the ALP also took to the last election, is in line with the policies of state and territory governments, many companies and the Business Council of Australia. It is also the public stand of some Liberal moderates but is totally rejected by the Nationals and hard-line Liberals.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to adopt it.

“Currently no one can tell me that going down that path won’t cost jobs, won’t put up your electricity prices, and won’t impact negatively on jobs in the economies of rural and regional Australia, ” he said this week.

In his speech, released ahead of time, Albanese also says a Labor government would never use Kyoto credits to meet Australia’s Paris targets, as the government will do if that is necessary.

And Albanese again condemns the government for putting $4 million into a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, Queensland.

But Albanese is leaving until closer to the election the shorter-term emissions reduction target Labor will adopt.

At the last election it committed to a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. Labor first took that target to the 2016 election and Albanese has previously said it was a mistake not to review it before the 2019 poll.

He says in his speech the 2050 carbon-neutral target should be “as non-controversial in Australia as it is in most nations”.

“This will be a real target, with none of the absurd nonsense of so-called ‘carryover credits’ that the prime minister has cooked up to give the impression he’s doing something when he isn’t.

“That’s not acting. It’s cheating. And Australian’s aren’t cheaters.”

On the Collinsville project, he says: “Let’s be clear. There is nothing to stop a private company investing its money in such a proposal. The reason it hasn’t is it doesn’t stack up.”

The $4 million is “just hush money for the climate sceptics who are stopping any real reform and who stopped the National Energy Guarantee supported by Turnbull, Morrison and Frydenberg.

“It’s pathetic. If it made sense the market would provide funding.

“The climate sceptics are market sceptics as well,” Albanese says.

“Investors will not contribute because the economic risks are simply too great. The costs are higher and rising. And the cost of alternatives like renewables is lower and falling.

“Everyone in the electricity sector knows that the only way a new coal power plant will be built in Australia is through significant taxpayer subsidies, including a carbon risk indemnity that the Australian Industry Group estimates would cost up to $17 billion for a single plant.

“That’s why one hasn’t been opened since 2007, construction hasn’t begun on one since 2004 and tenders haven’t been called this century,” Albanese says.

Meanwhile the terms of reference for the bushfire royal commission, released by Morrison on Thursday steer away from the issue of emissions reduction.

They acknowledge “the changing global climate carries risks for the Australian environment and Australia’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to bushfires”. But the inquiry is to report on

  • improving coordination across all levels of government in managing natural disasters
  • improving preparedness, resilience, and response in dealing with natural disasters
  • whether changes are needed to Australia’s legal framework for the involvement of the Commonwealth in responding to national emergencies.
  • The Conversation

    Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    We can be a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, if we just get on with it


    Anna Skarbek, Monash University and Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia

    This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


    Strong action on climate change is vital if Australia is to thrive in the future. Lack of consensus on climate policy over the past two decades has cost us dearly. It has harmed our natural environment, our international reputation and our economic prospects in a future low-carbon world.

    The next two years will be crucial if Australia is to meet its commitment, along with the rest of the world, to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst ravages of global warming.

    In 2015, nearly all nations signed the Paris climate agreement. They pledged to limit global warming to well below 2℃ and to reach net zero emissions. By our calculations, Australia needs to reach net zero before 2050 to do its part.

    As a first step, Australia has committed to reduce its total emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris Agreement it will have to submit progressively stronger targets every five years. Unfortunately, Australia is not yet on track to meet even its comparatively modest 2030 goal.




    Read more:
    Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


    Falling short

    Analysis by ClimateWorks Australia found that although Australia’s emissions have fallen by around 11% economy-wide since 2005, emissions have been steadily climbing again since 2013. In 2013 Australia emitted the equivalent of 520 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. By 2016 that had bounced back up to 533 million tonnes.

    While some parts of the economy cut emissions at certain times, no sector improved consistently at the rate needed to hit the overall 2030 target.

    Emissions are still above 2005 levels in the building, industrial and transport sectors, and only 3% below in the electricity sector, based on 2016 figures, the latest available. The overall fall was mainly delivered by the land sector, thanks to a combination of reduced land clearing and increased forestation. Increased energy efficiency and the growth of renewable energy also made modest contributions.

    Unfortunately, progress in reducing emissions has now stalled in most sectors and reversed overall.

    How fast should we be cutting emissions?

    We calculate that Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to deliver on the 2030 target. We will have to triple it to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

    Hitting net zero by 2050 means going much further than the Coalition government’s 2030 target of 26-28%, or the 45% proposed by federal Labor. Australia would need to cut total emissions by 55% below 2005 levels by 2030 (the middle of the range recommended by the Climate Change Authority) to get there without undue economic disruption.

    Fortunately, there are enough opportunities for further emission reductions in all sectors to meet our Paris targets. We can probably do better than that, given the falling costs of many key technologies.

    The gap to the 2030 target could be more than covered by further activity in the land sector alone, or by the electricity sector alone, or by the combined potential of the building, industrial and transport sectors. Emission reductions from energy efficiency – through better buildings, vehicles and white goods – can even save money in the long term.

    Clearly, not all sectors have the same potential to reduce emissions based on current technological progress, but all have significant room for improvement.

    We calculated that:

    • the electricity sector was on track to cut its emissions by 21% by 2030, but could cut them by nearly 70%
    • transport sector emissions are set to be 29% above 2005 levels by 2030, but with projected technology improvements could be 4% below
    • the land sector is set to hit 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, but with more support for planting could be 103% below – well into “negative emissions” territory. The land sector would then be sucking up carbon and making up for emissions from other sectors.

    How do we get there?

    To ensure a smooth, cost-effective transition to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050, some sectors will need to do more sooner, to avoid putting too much onus on other sectors where emissions savings are harder and more expensive.

    This will require major upgrades to Australia’s current policy settings. Since 2013 Australia’s efforts to cut emissions have focused largely on the land sector via the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and the electricity sector through the Renewable Energy Target. With the ERF due to run out of funds soon and no clear energy policy even as our ageing power stations shut down, policy certainty is urgently needed in both these areas to encourage investors.




    Read more:
    Australia can stop greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: here’s how


    Renewable energy is powering ahead and starting to tap into Australia’s huge potential in clean energy resources. However, ongoing policy support is needed to ensure our energy remains affordable and reliable through the transition.

    Despite the importance of the electricity and land sectors, we need emission reductions throughout the economy. Fortunately, there is plenty that Australia can do to cut emissions further, in many different ways:

    • in the land sector through revegetation and forestation
    • in electricity by increasing renewables and phasing out coal
    • in industry by bolstering energy efficiency, fuel switching and reducing non-energy emissions
    • in transport by introducing vehicle emission standards and shifting to electric vehicles and low-carbon fuels
    • in construction by increasing standards for buildings and appliances.

    With well-targeted policies across all sectors of the economy, we can get back on track and meet our Paris targets.

    Australia’s states and businesses are recognising how much they can and should do. For instance, 80% of Australia’s emissions are in states and territories with goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050, while many large companies and universities are pledging to be carbon-neutral or use 100% renewable energy.

    There is more than enough opportunity, but we have to act now.The Conversation

    Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Anna Malos, Project Manager, climate and energy policy, ClimateWorks Australia

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Farming in 2050: storing carbon could help meet Australia’s climate goals


    Brett Anthony Bryan, CSIRO

    Australia’s agricultural lands help to feed about 60 million people worldwide, and also support tens of thousands of farmers as well as rural communities and industries.

    But a growing global population with a growing appetite is placing increasing demands on our agricultural land. At the same time, the climate is warming and in many places getting drier too.

    Agriculture, and particularly livestock, is currently a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. But new markets and incentives could make storing carbon or producing energy from land more profitable than farming, and turn our agricultural land into a carbon sink.

    How might these competing forces play out in changing Australian land use? Our research, published in Global Environmental Change, assesses a range of potential pathways for Australia’s agricultural land as part of CSIRO’s National Outlook.

    Changing landscapes

    The only constant in landscapes is change. Ecosystems are always changing in response to natural drivers such as fire and flood.

    Humans have complicated things. Indigenous Australians manipulated the Australian landscape and climate through burning for millennia, sustaining a population of around 750,000 and underpinning a culture.

    European colonisation brought a different and more pervasive change, clearing land, building cities, damming rivers and establishing an increasingly mechanised and industrialised agriculture.

    These iconic but changed landscapes inspired the romantic art of Arthur Streeton and poetry of Banjo Paterson among many others — and helped forge a young nation’s identity.

    ‘Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide’, 1890. Arthur Streeton. The Art Gallery of NSW describes the painting as ‘an idealised vision of the Yarra River at Heidelberg, with the Doncaster Tower in the middle distance and the Dandenong Ranges beyond’.

    Change can happen surprisingly quickly. Often before we know it we’ve gone too far and need to scramble for fixes that are so often costly, slow and ultimately inadequate.

    For example, in South Australia, researchers in the early 1960s raised the alarm that the feverish post-war period of soldier resettlement, land clearance and agricultural development threatened entire native plant and animal communities with extinction. The government’s response over the following 30 years was to expand greatly the conservation reserve network and eventually prohibit land clearing.

    https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=zXUWIAKxCpHk.kLpt_wSpBC7U

    History repeating?

    Agricultural lands produce a range of goods and services. But in many places the focus on agricultural productivity has come at the expense of ecosystems. Biodiversity, soil and water are all on downward trends.

    Is the balance right? Opinion varies. Many would say no, and consider the status quo to be stacked strongly against the environment.

    Others see agriculture as entering a boom time, driven by growing population and rising food prices. Substantial interest from overseas investors in Australian agricultural land reflects this opportunity.

    Parts of Australia’s agricultural land continue to change fast. Lessons hard-learned by South Australia seem to have been forgotten. Rates of land clearance in Queensland are rising again since 2010 after a long-term trend of decline.

    In the 1990s, new financial incentives led to the planting of over 1 million hectares of forest in southern Australia. Now a failed business model, many of these plantations are being returned to agriculture.

    Demand for more secure sources of energy has generated rapid expansion of coal seam gas and wind power generation, and the development of northern Australia remains a bipartisan priority.

    Worldwide, Australia is not alone — many international examples also exist of recent, massive, rapid and accelerating changes in how land is used.

    Australia has historically taken a hands-off approach to managing land use change, instead focusing on increasing the productivity and competitiveness of agriculture. Apart from a handful of planning and environmental regulations, the use of land has been subject to minimal governance or strategic direction.

    Where to from here?

    What is it that Australians really want from our land? We know what we don’t want: wall-to-wall crops, pasture, buildings, gas wells, mines, wind farms or trees.

    We can expect healthy debate around the margins, but, in general, diversity, productivity and sustainability seem to be widely valued. Most of us want to leave the place in decent condition for future generations.

    Europe has had this conversation and knows what it wants from its landscapes — and it’s not afraid to pay for it (for instance, through agricultural subsidies). A deep aesthetic and cultural heritage is the central objective, with a balance of recreation opportunities, tourism, a clean and healthy environment and high-quality produce all being high priorities.

    Once we know what we want, we can work out how to get there.

    That’s where science can help. We now have the ability to project changes in land use in response to policy and global change, and the environmental and economic consequences.

    CSIRO’s recent National Outlook mapped Australia’s potential future pathways. A companion paper in Nature found that it is possible to achieve strong economic growth and reduce environmental pressure, if we put the right policies in place now. It provides a glimpse of how our rural lands might respond to coalescing future change pressures.

    Farming carbon

    In our modelling, carbon sequestration in the land sector plays a key role of Australia’s future. Land systems can help with the heavy lifting required to hold global warming to 2℃ as recently agreed in Paris.

    There are several factors that could drive this change, including climate, carbon pricing, global food demand and energy prices.

    We modelled the economic potential for land use change and its impacts in over 600 scenarios (full data available here), combining a suite of global outlooks and national policy options.

    A carbon price, which enables landholders to make money from storing carbon in trees and soils (often much more money than from farming), may increase pressure to shift farmland to restored forests.

    Who knows? A pay rise while watching trees grow could be an attractive proposition for our ageing farmers. Complementary biodiversity payments could also help arrest declines in wildlife and help it adapt to climate change.

    If we redouble our focus on productivity, by 2050 agriculture will produce more than today, even as farmland contracts. The least productive areas are less able to compete with reforestation and other new land uses, leaving the most efficient agricultural land in production.

    But trade-offs are likely. Trees use a lot more water than crops and pasture, so we will need to think carefully about managing water resources.

    Economic potential for land use change and sustainability impacts from 2013 to 2050 under national global environmental and economic conditions consistent with 2℃ warming by 2100

    Australians care about their land and are more aware than ever about what is happening to it. While we can have some control over the future of our land, and we do exercise this control in certain circumstances (such as urban planning), our long-term approach to rural land has been to let environmental and economic forces play out and let the invisible hand of economics determine what will be.

    Given the pace at which change can happen, a smarter approach will be to start the conversation, work out what it is we want from our land, and put the policies and institutions in place to get us there.

    The Conversation

    Brett Anthony Bryan, Principal Research Scientist, Environmental-economic integration, CSIRO

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.