How to answer the argument that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

After a recent foray into the debate over Australia’s so-called “climate election”, I received plenty of critical replies to my argument that Australians should take climate action more seriously. The most common rebuttal was that Australians were right to focus on other issues at the ballot box because Australia’s contribution to global climate change is small anyway.

This is precisely the argument Alan Jones advanced in a now notorious Sky News segment in which he used a bowl of rice to explain away Australia’s climate obligations.

Australia, Jones noted, contributes only 1.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, which in turn represents just 3% of the overall amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere, which in turn makes up little more than 0.04% of the whole atmosphere. So why, he asked while triumphantly brandishing a single rice grain, are we so obsessed with Australia’s climate policy when the planet is so big and the consequences of our actions are so tiny?




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This is a powerful critique and, on the face of it, a simple and compelling line of argument, which is precisely why it’s so often used. Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?

But there are at least three obvious responses to it.

The ‘per capita’ problem

The first and most obvious response is that Australia emits much more than our fair share.

Sure, our emissions are 1.3% of the global total. But our population is 0.3% of the global total.

This isn’t the only way to allocate national emissions targets. But if rich countries like Australia aren’t doing more to reduce their disproportionately high emissions, what possible incentive is there for developing countries to take the issue seriously? Nations such as India, Brazil and China can ask – as indeed they have at various climate talks – why they should reduce emissions when Australia does so little.

In this sense, Australia’s position on climate action is significant, not only for the 1.3% of greenhouse gases we produce, but for the potential influence on global policy.

As a nation so proud of “punching above its weight” in fields such as sport and technology, Australia is missing a big chance to show global leadership on climate.

The ‘coal exports’ problem

The 1.3% statistic is only true if we focus purely on greenhouse emissions within Australia itself. Fair enough, you might say, given that this is the way the Paris Agreement, and the Kyoto Protocol before it, measures countries’ emissions.

But this approach excludes some significant factors.

First, it fails to take proper account of emissions created in one country while manufacturing goods for export to other countries. Emissions due to Chinese-produced goods destined for Australian consumers, for example, count towards China’s emissions, not Australia’s. If we take this “consumption shadow” into account, the climate impact of developed countries, including Australia, becomes much higher.

Second, there is a similar issue with coal exports. Coal dug up by one country but burned in another counts towards the latter’s emissions. As one of the world’s largest coal exporters, this is clearly important for Australia.

In 2012, the campaign group Beyond Zero Emissions estimated that if Australian coal was factored into Australia’s emissions, our contribution to global emissions would be 4% rather than 1.3%. This would make Australia the world’s sixth-largest contributor to climate change.

Are we responsible for what other countries do with Australian coal? According to the Paris treaty, the answer is no. But drug barons and arms dealers use similar arguments to wash their hands of drug addiction and war.

What’s more, Australia already limits a range of exports based on concerns about their use in importing countries, including weapons, uranium and even livestock.

So there’s certainly a precedent for viewing exports through the lens of our international responsibilities. And with the UN secretary-general joining recent calls to end all new coal power plants, a global coal treaty or even embargo might eventually force Australia’s hand.

The ‘capacity to respond’ problem

The third rebuttal to Alan Jones’s arguments is that Australia has far more capacity to take climate action than many other nations. Again, this works at two levels.

First, we’re rich. Australia is a top-20 world economy in terms of both size and average wealth. This means we are more able than most countries to manage the economic costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

Second, thanks to decades of relative climate policy inaction and modest targets, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit for Australia to ratchet up its climate ambition. This applies most obviously to the renewable energy sector, but also to areas such as energy efficiency and transport.

Australia’s land-clearing rates are also among the highest in the world – we are the only developed nation to feature in a 2018 WWF list of deforestation hotspots. Reducing this would significantly cut emissions while also protecting important carbon stores.

As economist John Quiggin has noted, the longer we wait to move away from fossil fuels, the more expensive it will be.

What does this all mean for Australia?

Jones’s argument is a beguilingly simplistic response to a wicked problem. Climate change is a global problem that requires global action. But the calculations around who should take the lead, and how much constitutes each nation’s fair share, are fiendishly complex.

But, by almost any measure, a country like Australia should be leading the way on climate policy, not being dragged kicking and screaming to take action that falls far behind that of comparable nations.




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The current reluctance to act seriously on climate change appears at best self-serving and at worst an outright moral failing.

We should take the argument that Australia’s climate contribution is insignificant with a grain of salt. Or perhaps rice.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

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Why there’s more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere than you may have realised



The Cape Grim observatory, home of the ‘world’s cleanest air’… and rising greenhouse gases.
CSIRO, Author provided

Zoe Loh, CSIRO; Blagoj Mitrevski, CSIRO; David Etheridge, CSIRO; Nada Derek, CSIRO; Paul Fraser, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, CSIRO; Paul Steele, CSIRO; Ray Langenfelds, CSIRO, and Sam Cleland, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This week brought news that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels at the Mauna Loa atmospheric observatory in Hawaii have risen steeply for the seventh year in a row, reaching a May 2019 average of 414.7 parts per million (ppm).

It was the highest monthly average in 61 years of measurements at that observatory, and comes five years after CO₂ concentrations first breached the 400ppm milestone.

But in truth, the amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is higher still. If we factor in the presence of other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide, we find that the world has already ticked past yet another milestone: 500ppm of what we call “CO₂-equivalent”, or CO₂-e.




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In July 2018, the combination of long-lived greenhouse gases measured in the “cleanest air in the world” at Cape Grim Baseline Atmospheric Pollution Station surpassed 500ppm CO₂-e.

As the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere contains less pollution than the north, this means the global average atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is now well above this level.

What is CO₂-e?

Although CO₂ is the most abundant greenhouse gas, dozens of other gases – including methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N₂O) and the synthetic greenhouse gases – also trap heat. Many of them are more powerful greenhouse gases than CO₂, and some linger for longer in the atmosphere. That means they have a significant influence on how much the planet is warming.

Southern Hemispheric radiative forcing relative to 1750 due to the long-lived greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and synthetic greenhouse gases), expressed as watts per square metre, from measurements in situ at Cape Grim, from the Cape Grim Air Archive, and Antarctic firn air.
CSIRO

Atmospheric scientists use CO₂-e as a convenient way to aggregate the effect of all the long-lived greenhouse gases.

As all the major greenhouse gases (CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O) are rising in concentration, so too is CO₂-e. It has climbed at an average rate of 3.3ppm per year during this decade – faster than at any time in history. And it is showing no sign of slowing.

Cape Grim/Antarctic carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) calculated from the long-lived greenhouse gas radiative forcing data shown in the figure above with CO₂ data shown for reference, annual data through to 2018. Inset panel shows the monthly mean CO₂-e data for Cape Grim from 2015 through to March 2019, showing CO₂-e surpassing 500ppm in July 2018.
CSIRO

This milestone, like so many others, is symbolic. The difference between 499 and 500ppm CO₂-e is marginal in terms of the fate of the climate and the life it sustains. But the fact that the cleanest air on the planet has now breached this threshold should elicit deep concern.

Warming on the way

The Paris climate agreement is aimed at limiting global warming to less than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. But the task of predicting how human greenhouse emissions will perturb the climate system on a scale of decades to centuries is complex.

The best estimate of long-term global warming expected from 500ppm CO₂-e is about 2.5℃. But so far, since pre-industrial times, the global climate (including oceans) has warmed by only 0.7℃.

This is partly because industrial smog and other tiny particles (together called aerosols) reflect sunlight out to space, offsetting some of the expected warming. What’s more, the climate system responds slowly to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations because much of the excess heat is taken up by the oceans.

The amount of heat each greenhouse gas can trap depends on its absorption spectrum – how strongly it can absorb energy at different wavelengths, particularly in the infrared range. Despite its simple molecular structure, there is still much to learn about the heat-absorbing properties of methane, the second-biggest component of CO₂-e.

Studies published in 2016 and 2018 led to the estimate of methane’s warming potential being revised upwards by 15%, meaning methane is now considered to be 32 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO₂, on a per-molecule basis over a 100-year time span.

Considering this new evidence, we calculate that greenhouse gas concentrations at Cape Grim crossed the 500ppm CO₂-e threshold in July 2018.

This is higher than the official estimate based on the previous formulation for calculating CO₂-e, which remains in widespread use. For instance, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is reporting 2018 CO₂-e as 496ppm.

The graph below shows the two curves for the time evolution of CO₂-e in the atmosphere as measured at Cape Grim, using the old and new formulae.

Cape Grim monthly CO2-e from 2015 until Sept 2018 calculated using the old and new formulae.
CSIRO

Some greenhouse gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), also deplete the ozone layer. CFCs are in decline thanks to the Montreal Protocol, which bans the production and use of these chemicals, despite reports that indicate some recent production of CFC-11 in China.

But unfortunately their ozone-safe replacements, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are very potent greenhouse gases, and are on the rise. The recently enacted Kigali Amendment to the protocol means that consumption controls on HFCs are now in place, and this will see the growth rate of HFCs slow significantly and then reverse in the coming decades.

We can change

Australia is at the forefront of initiating measures to curb the impact of HFCs on climate change.

Methane is another low-hanging fruit for climate action, while we undertake the slower and more difficult transition away from CO₂-emitting energy sources.

The significant human methane emissions from leaks in reticulated gas systems, landfills, waste water treatment, and fugitive emissions from coal mining and oil and gas production can be monitored and reduced. We have the science and technology to do this now.

Both in the oil and gas sectors and in urban areas, there are many examples of how methane “hot spots” can be identified and tackled.

It’s a classic win-win that saves money and reduces climate change, and something we should be implementing in Australia in the near future.The Conversation

Zoe Loh, Research Scientist, CSIRO; Blagoj Mitrevski, Research scientist, CSIRO; David Etheridge, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Nada Derek, Research Projects Officer, Oceans and Atmosphere, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO; Paul Fraser, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO; Paul Steele, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO; Ray Langenfelds, Scientist at CSIRO Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, and Sam Cleland, Officer in Charge, Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

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

Whichever way you spin it, Australia’s greenhouse emissions have been climbing since 2015


Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

Let me explain how to see through the spin on Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions figures.

With the release today of Australia’s emissions data for the December 2018 quarter, federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has been more forthcoming than usual about the rising trend in Australia’s emissions.

There’s one small issue, though. Despite Taylor’s comments in which he sought to explain away Australia’s 0.7% year-on-year rise in emissions as a product of increased gas investment, actual emissions in the December quarter were in fact down relative to the September 2018 quarter. This is due mainly to the fact that people use much more energy for heating in the July-September period than they do during the milder spring weather of October-December.

Taylor, meanwhile, was discussing the “adjusted” data, which reveals an 0.8% increase between the two quarters.

This might all sound like minor quibbling. But knowing the difference between quarterly and annual figures, and raw and adjusted data – and knowing what’s ultimately the most important metric – is crucial to understanding Australia’s emissions. And it might come in handy next time you’re listening to a politician discussing our progress (or lack thereof) towards tackling climate change.




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Highlighting the difference between quarters is problematic, because emissions data are what statisticians describe as “noisy”. Emissions levels jump around from period to period, which can obscure the overall trend.

Quarterly data is important for understanding how Australia is tracking more generally towards doing its fair share on reducing its emissions. But too much stock is put on the noise, and not enough on the underlying trend.

The charts below compare our estimated actual emissions on a quarterly basis (top) with the cumulative emissions for the year leading up to that quarter (here described as the “year-to-quarter emissions” and shown in the lower chart).

Quarterly emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.)
Dept Environment and Energy (data)
Year-to-quarter emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.)
Dept Environment and Energy (data)

These charts, both built on today’s data, make a few things clear.

Quarterly emissions are noisy

The first thing to note is that saying that our emissions are down compared with the previous quarter is hardly remarkable, or worth patting ourselves on the back for. This is especially true if we are comparing the December quarter data, released today, with the data for the preceding quarter.

September quarter emissions are almost always higher than the rest of the year. This is because, while September itself is in spring, the September quarter also covers July and August.

Our winter heating needs are generally met using fossil fuels, whether through electric heaters or natural gas, which is why the September quarter has the highest emissions. In the December quarter, which covers most of spring, our need for heating drops, and so do our emissions.

But if you look beyond the difference between quarters, as in the second chart above, you can see the underlying rising trend in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Cherrypicking the best metric

Readers who follow climate politics may remember the spectacular moment in March when Taylor appeared on ABC’s Insiders opposite Barrie Cassidy.

Many journalists, including those on the Insiders panel that day, responded at the time that Taylor’s claim that emissions had dipped over the preceding three months was true but not meaningful, in the context of an annual rising trend.

But it was not even necessarily true. As is visible in the quarterly chart, emissions were not lower in the September quarter of 2018 than they were in the preceding quarter.

Specifically, Taylor claimed that “total emissions are coming down right now”. This is only true if we are talking about “seasonally adjusted, weather-normalised total emissions”. The adjusted data are shown above. While the adjusted data went down between quarters, the actual emissions went up.

The process of adjustment is not unprincipled, and is used to see through the noise of our emissions data. “Seasonal adjustment” and “weather normalisation” are two separate processes.

Seasonal adjustment refers to the process of adjusting the emissions figures to account for the predictable seasonal fluctuations described earlier. Weather normalisation does the same, but takes into account individual temperature extremes, both hot and cold, during any given period, and adjusts accordingly.

Much as a golf handicap lets us compare the performance of golfers of differing abilities, these data adjustments tell us whether our emissions are tracking higher or lower than we might expect.

But if a golfer with a handicap of 10 goes around the course in 82 shots, we don’t declare that they have actually hit the ball only 72 times.

This is essentially what Taylor did in his interview with Cassidy. It is not correct to refer to these adjusted emissions data as our “total emissions”.

What does data adjustment mean?

Building on this, it is important to note that the adjusted data and actual data often disagree on whether emissions have increased between quarters. Since the Coalition took office in 2013, there have been 21 quarterly emissions data releases.

The actual quarterly emissions have increased nine times between quarters. The adjusted data says there have been 12 of these increases. And they have only agreed on whether there was an increase six times.

When one form of the data shows an increase and the other does not, the minister has a choice about which figure to highlight.

In the September quarter, the actual emissions gave bad news (an increase), and the adjusted emissions gave good news (a reduction). Taylor chose to refer to the adjusted data, as did the then environment minister Melissa Price, who had portfolio responsibility for emissions reduction at the time.

Today, this was flipped. The actual emissions showed good news (a reduction) and the adjusted data showed bad news (an increase).

It’s refreshing, then, to see Taylor choose to focus on the adjusted emissions data this time around, when he could have chosen the spin route and focused on the fact that the raw data showed a decrease between quarters.

So what does it all mean?

What we can say without any equivocation at all is that since 2015, in the wake of the carbon price repeal the preceding July, Australia’s greenhouse emissions have increased. On the government’s own projections , this trend is not expected to change.

Even if the government’s Climate Solutions Package delivers the amount of emissions reductions that have been promised (and it is unclear that it will), the overall effect will be to stabilise emissions rather than bring them down. This is because the government intends to use Kyoto carryover credits to help meet its Paris Agreement goal, rather than using fresh carbon reductions to deliver in full.




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Stabilisation is not enough. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its Special Report on 1.5℃ last year, deep cuts are required to ensure a safe climate. The Paris Agreement, while calling on all nations to do their part, says rich countries such as Australia should take the lead.

The need to reduce emissions is pressing. And while the raw emissions figures may be down this quarter, this is not meaningful progress. Far more meaningful is the fact that Australia has no effective policy to limit our impact on the global climate.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane



Agriculture – including methane from cows and sheep – currently contributes almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Robert McLachlan, Massey University

New Zealand’s long-awaited zero carbon bill will create sweeping changes to the management of emissions, setting a global benchmark with ambitious reduction targets for all major greenhouse gases.

The bill includes two separate targets – one for the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and another target specifically for biogenic methane, produced by livestock and landfill waste.

Launching the bill, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:

Carbon dioxide is the most important thing we need to tackle – that’s why we’ve taken a net zero carbon approach. Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution. That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill will:

  • Create a target of reducing all greenhouse gases, except biogenic methane, to net zero by 2050
  • Create a separate target to reduce emissions of biogenic methane by 10% by 2030, and 24-47% by 2050 (relative to 2017 levels)
  • Establish a new, independent climate commission to provide emissions budgets, expert advice, and monitoring to help keep successive governments on track
  • Require government to implement policies for climate change risk assessment, a national adaptation plan, and progress reporting on implementation of the plan.



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Bringing in agriculture

Preparing the bill has been a lengthy process. The government was committed to working with its coalition partners and also with the opposition National Party, to ensure the bill’s long-term viability. A consultation process in 2018 yielded 15,000 submissions, more than 90% of which asked for an advisory, independent climate commission, provision for adapting to the effects of climate change and a target of net zero by 2050 for all gasses.

Throughout this period there has been discussion of the role and responsibility of agriculture, which contributes 48% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This is an important issue not just for New Zealand and all agricultural nations, but for world food supply.


Ministry for the Environment, CC BY-ND

Another critical question involved forestry. Pathways to net zero involve planting a lot of trees, but this is a short-term solution with only partly understood consequences. Recently, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment suggested an approach in which forestry could offset only agricultural, non-fossil emissions.

Now we know how the government has threaded its way between these difficult choices.




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Separate targets for different gases

In signing the Paris Agreement, New Zealand agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and to make efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. The bill is guided by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which details three pathways to limit warming to 1.5°C. All of them involve significant reductions in agricultural methane (by 23%-69% by 2050).

Farmers will be pleased with the “two baskets” approach, in which biogenic methane is treated differently from other gasses. But the bill does require total biogenic emissions to fall. They cannot be offset by planting trees. The climate commission, once established, and the minister will have to come up with policies that actually reduce emissions.

In the short term, that will likely involve decisions about livestock stocking rates: retiring the least profitable sheep and beef farms, and improving efficiency in the dairy industry with fewer animals but increased productivity on the remaining land. Longer term options include methane inhibitors, selective breeding, and a possible methane vaccine.

Ambitious net zero target

Net zero by 2050 on all other gasses, including offsetting by forestry, is still an ambitious target. New Zealand’s emissions rose sharply in 2017 and effective mechanisms to phase out fossil fuels are not yet in place. It is likely that with protests in Auckland over a local 10 cents a litre fuel tax – albeit brought in to fund public transport and not as a carbon tax per se – the government may be feeling they have to tread delicately here.

But the bill requires real action. The first carbon budget will cover 2022-2025. Work to strengthen New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme is already underway and will likely involve a falling cap on emissions that will raise the carbon price, currently capped at NZ$25.




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In initial reaction to the bill, the National Party welcomed all aspects of it except the 24-47% reduction target for methane, which they believe should have been left to the climate commission. Coalition partner New Zealand First is talking up their contribution and how they had the agriculture sector’s interests at heart.

While climate activist groups welcomed the bill, Greenpeace criticised the bill for not being legally enforceable and described the 10% cut in methane as “miserly”. The youth action group Generation Zero, one of the first to call for zero carbon legislation, is understandably delighted. Even so, they say the law does not match the urgency of the crisis. And it’s true that since the bill was first mooted, we have seen a stronger sense of urgency, from the Extinction Rebellion to Greta Thunberg to the UK parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency.




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New Zealand’s bill is a pioneering effort to respond in detail to the 1.5ºC target and to base a national plan around the science reported by the IPCC.

Many other countries are in the process of setting and strengthening targets. Ireland’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Climate recently recommended adopting a target of net zero for all gasses by 2050. Scotland will strengthen its target to net zero carbon dioxide and methane by 2040 and net zero all gasses by 2045. Less than a week after this announcement, the Scottish government dropped plans to cut air departure fees (currently £13 for short and £78 for long flights, and double for business class).

One country that has set a specific goals for agricultural methane is Uruguay, with a target of reducing emissions per kilogram of beef by 33%-46% by 2030. In the countries mentioned above, not so different from New Zealand, agriculture produces 35%, 23%, and 55% of emissions, respectively.

New Zealand has learned from processes that have worked elsewhere, notably the UK’s Climate Change Commission, which attempts to balance science, public involvement and the sovereignty of parliament. Perhaps our present experience in balancing the demands of different interest groups and economic sectors, with diverse mitigation opportunities and costs, can now help others.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

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

Australia is counting on cooking the books to meet its climate targets


Alan Pears, RMIT University

A new OECD report has warned that Australia risks falling short of its 2030 emissions target unless it implements “a major effort to move to a low-carbon model”.

This view is consistent both with official government projections released late last year, and independent analysis of Australia’s emissions trajectory. Yet the government still insists we are on track, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming as recently as November that the 2030 target will be reached “in a canter”.

What’s really going on? Does the government have any data or modelling to serve as a basis for Morrison’s confidence? And if so, why doesn’t it tell us?




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The government’s emission projections report actually presents three scenarios: the “baseline” projection, which forecasts that emissions will rise by 3% by 2030, plus two other scenarios in which economic growth (and thus demand for fossil fuel consumption) is higher or lower than the baseline.

Range of scenarios for Australian emissions. Vertical axis represents greenhouse emissions measured in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Australian Emissions Projection Report, Figure 15

As the graph shows, all three of these scenarios would see Australia miss its 26-28% emissions reduction target by a wide margin. So why claim that our emissions are on track? The answer, as is so often the case with emissions targets, lies in the fine print.

The government is indeed poised to deliver on the “letter of the law” of its Paris commitment if two things play out. First, if it claims credit from overdelivering on Australia’s 2010 and 2020 commitments. And second, if the “low demand” scenario is the one that eventuates.

To reach our Paris target, the government estimates that we will need to reduce emissions by the equivalent of 697 million tonnes of carbon dioxide before 2030. It also calculates that the overdelivery on previous climate targets already represents a saving of 367Mt, and that low economic demand would save a further 571Mt. That adds up to 938Mt of emissions reductions, outperforming the target by 35% – a canter that would barely work up a sweat.

How would this scenario actually eventuate?

Let’s leave aside the technical question of whether it’s legitimate to count past performance towards future emissions targets, and focus for now on how the low-demand economic scenario might become reality.

The government’s report contains no discussion on the basis of the “low demand” scenario. But history suggests the annual baseline estimates of 2030 emissions have overestimated future emissions, with revisions downwards over time. For example, the 2018 projection for 2030 emissions is 28% lower than the 2012 projection for the same date (see figure 2 here).

In the real world, meanwhile, change is evident. Households and businesses are installing solar panels, not least to guard against high power bills. Businesses are signing power purchase agreements with renewable energy suppliers for much the same reason. State and local governments are pursuing increasingly ambitious clean energy and climate policies. Some energy-intensive industries may be driven offshore by our high gas prices.

New technology such as electric vehicles, ongoing improvement in energy efficiency, and emerging business models that break the power of big energy companies are transforming our economy. Investment in low-emission public transport infrastructure means its share of travel will increase. Farmers are cutting methane emissions by installing biogas production equipment.

Other studies also support the idea that Australia may indeed outperform its baseline emission scenario. ANU researchers recently predicted that “emissions in the electricity sector will decline by more than 26% in 2020-21, and will meet Australia’s entire Paris target of 26% reduction across all sectors of the economy (not just “electricity’s fair share”) in 2024-25”.

The government’s baseline electricity scenario uses the Australian Electricity Market Operator’s “neutral” scenario. But AEMO’s “weak” scenario would see 2030 demand in the National Electricity Market 18% lower than the neutral scenario (see figure 13 here).

Of course, many of these changes are happening in spite of the government’s policy settings, rather than because of them. Still, a win’s a win!

Emissions in context

But is hitting the target in purely technical terms really a win? In truth, it would fall far short of what is really necessary and responsible.

This is partly because of the plan to use prior credit for previous emissions targets to help get us across the line for 2030. This may be allowed under the international rules. But we would be leveraging extremely weak earlier commitments.

For example, Australia’s 2010 Kyoto Protocol target of an 8% increase in emissions was laughably weak in comparison with the developed world average target of a 5% cut. Our 2020 5% reduction target is also well below the aspirations of most other countries. What’s more, several major nations have declared that they will exclude past “overachievements” from their 2020 commitments.

The government has obfuscated the issue further by deliberately conflating our electricity emission reductions target, which will be easily met, with our overall economy-wide target, which presents a much tougher challenge.

There’s more. Australia’s Paris pledge to reduce emissions from 2005 levels by 26-28% between 2021 and 2030 is inconsistent with our global responsibilities and with climate science. The target was agreed to by the then prime minister Tony Abbott in 2015 as the minimum needed to look credible. But as the Climate Change Authority pointed out, a 2030 target of 40-60% below 2000 levels is more scientifically responsible.




Read more:
Australia’s 2030 climate target puts us in the race, but at the back


What is Australia’s “fair share” of the heavy lifting needed to stay below 2℃ of global warming, as agreed in Paris? If all humans were entitled to release the same greenhouse emissions by 2050, the average would be around 2 tonnes of CO₂ per person in 2050. In 2018, the average Australian was responsible for 21.5 tonnes.

There is plenty of heavy lifting still to do, and no point in pretending otherwise. The government must publish its data and modelling in full if its canter claims are to have any credibility.The Conversation

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

Fresh thinking: the carbon tax that would leave households better off



File 20181120 161621 nh31d1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The UNSW climate dividend proposal will be launched on Wednesday by the Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps.
Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSW and Rosalind Dixon, UNSW

Today, as part of the UNSW Grand Challenge on Inequality, we release a study entitled A Climate Dividend for Australians that offers a practical solution to the twin problems of climate change and energy affordability.

It’s a serious, market-based approach to address climate change through a carbon tax, but it would also leave around three-quarters of Australians financially better off.

It is based on a carbon dividend plan formulated by the Washington-based Climate Leadership Council, which includes luminaries such as Larry Summers, George Schultz and James Baker. It is similar to a plan proposed by the US (and Australian) Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

How it would work

Carbon emissions would be taxed at A$50 per ton, with the proceeds returned to ordinary Australians as carbon dividends.

The dividends would be significant — a tax-free payment of about A$1,300 per adult.

The average household would be A$585 a year better off after taking account of price increases that would flow through from producers.




Read more:
Trying to measure the savings from the carbon tax is a mug’s game


If those households also cut their energy consumption as a result of the tax they would be even better off.

And the payment would be progressive, meaning the lowest-earning households would get the most. The lowest earning quarter would be A$1,305 a year better off.

Untaxed exports, fewer regulations

For energy and other producers making things to sell to Australians, the tax would do what all so-called Pigouvian taxes do — make them pay for the damage they do to others.

But Australian exporters to countries without such schemes would have their payments rebated.

Imports from countries without such schemes would be charged “fees” based on carbon content.




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This means Australian companies subjected to the tax wouldn’t be disadvantaged by imports from countries without it, and nor would importers from countries with such a tax.

The plan would permit the rollback of other restrictions on carbon emissions and expensive subsidies.

Our estimates suggest the rollbacks have the potential to save the Commonwealth A$2.5 billion per year.

It’s working overseas

Our plan is novel in the Australian context, but similar to one in the Canadian province of British Columbia which has a carbon tax that escalates until it reaches C$50 per ton, with proceeds returned to citizens via a dividends.




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Alaska also pays long-term dividends from common-property resources. The proceeds from its oil reserves have been distributed to citizens since 1982, totalling up to US$2,000 per person.

It could be phased in

We would be open to a gradual approach. One option we canvass in the report is beginning with a A$20 per metric ton tax and increasing it by A$5 a year until it reaches A$50 after six years.

The dividends would grow with the tax rate, but the bulk of households would immediately be better off in net terms and much better off over time.

And it would be simple

Our plan doesn’t create loopholes or incentives to get handouts from the government, as have previous plans that directed proceeds to polluters.

It will not satisfy climate-change deniers, but then no plan for action on climate change would do that — other than perhaps the governmment’s direct action policy, which provides a costly taxpayer-funded boondoggle to selected winners.




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But for those who understand that climate change is real, our plan balances the important benefits we gain from economic development and associated carbon emissions against the social cost of those emissions.

It does it in a way that provides compensation to all Australians, but on an equal basis, making the lowest-income Australians substantially better off.

It is the sort of policy that politicians who believe in both the realities of climate change as well as the power and benefits of markets ought to support.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW and Rosalind Dixon, Professor of Law, UNSW

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

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



File 20180905 45178 yvds90.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australia’s energy emissions fell slightly due to renewable energy, but it’s not enough.
Jonathan Potts/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Anna Skarbek, Monash University

While Australia is coming to terms with yet another new prime minister, one thing that hasn’t changed is the emissions data: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are not projected to fall any further without new policies.

Australia, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change, has committed to reduce its total emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050.




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New analysis by ClimateWorks Australia has found Australia has three times the potential needed to reach the federal government’s current 2030 target, but this will not be achieved under current policy settings.

Energy is not the only sector

Australia’s emissions were actually falling for more than half a decade, but have been steadily increasing again since 2013. If Australia sustained the rate of emissions reduction we achieved between 2005 and 2013, we could meet the government’s 2030 target. But progress has stalled in most sectors, and reversed overall.

Emissions are still above 2005 levels in the industry, buildings and transport sectors, and only 3% below in the electricity sector. It is mainly because of land sector emissions savings that overall Australia’s emissions are on track to meet its 2020 target, and are currently 11% below 2005 levels.

Despite the current focus on the energy market, electricity emissions comprise about one-third of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions. So no matter what policies are proposed for electricity, other policies will be needed for the other major sectors of industry, buildings, transport and land.

Fortunately, Australia is blessed with opportunities for more emissions reductions in all sectors.




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ClimateWorks’ analysis assessed Australia’s progress on reducing emissions at the halfway point from the 2005 base year to 2030, looking across the whole of the economy as well as at key sectors.

We found emissions reductions since 2005 have been led by reduced land clearing and increased forestation, as well as energy efficiency and a slight reduction in power emissions as more renewable energy has entered the market. But while total emissions reduced at an economy-wide level, and in some sectors at certain times, none of the sectors improved consistently at the rate needed to achieve the Paris climate targets.

Interestingly, some sub-sectors were on track for some of the time. Non-energy emissions from industry and the land sector were both improving at a rate consistent with a net zero emissions pathway for around five years. The buildings sector energy efficiency and electricity for some years improved at more than half the rate of a net zero emissions pathway. These rates have all declined since 2014 (electricity resumed its rate of improvement again in 2016).

Looking forward

Looking forward to 2030, we studied what would happen to emissions under current policies and those in development, including the government’s original version of the National Energy Guarantee with a 26% emission target for the National Electricity Market. Our analysis shows emissions reductions would be led by a further shift to cleaner electricity and energy efficiency improvements in buildings and transport, but that this would be offset by population and economic growth.

As a result, emissions reductions are projected to stagnate at just 11% below 2005 levels by 2030. Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to achieve the federal government’s 2030 target and triple its progress in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

So, while Australia is not currently on track to meet 2030 target, our analysis found it is still possible to get there.




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The gap to the 2030 target could be more than covered by further potential for emissions reductions in the land sector alone, or almost be covered by the further potential in the electricity sector alone, or by the potential in the industry, buildings and transport sectors combined. Harnessing all sectors’ potential would put us back on track for the longer-term Paris Agreement goal of net zero emissions.

Essentially this involves increasing renewables and phasing out coal in the electricity sector; increasing energy efficiency and switching to low carbon fuels in industry; increasing standards in buildings; introducing vehicle emissions standards and shifting to electricity and low carbon fuels in transport; and undertaking more revegetation or forestation in the land sector.

The opportunities identified in each sector are the lowest-cost combination using proven technologies that achieve the Paris Agreement goal, while the economy continues to grow.




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In the next two years, countries around the world, including Australia, will be required to report on the progress of their Paris Agreement targets and present their plans for the goal of net zero emissions. With so much potential for reducing emissions across all sectors of the Australian economy, we can do more to support all sectors to get on track – there is more than enough opportunity, if we act on it in time.The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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