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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Two-thirds of the world’s oceans fall outside national jurisdictions – they belong to no one and everyone.
These international waters, known as the high seas, harbour a plethora of natural resources and millions of unique marine species.
But they are being damaged irretrievably. Research shows unsustainable fisheries are one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity in the high seas.
According to a 2019 global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, 66% of the world’s oceans are experiencing detrimental and increasing cumulative impacts from human activities.
In the high seas, human activities are regulated by a patchwork of international legal agreements under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But this piecemeal approach is failing to safeguard the ecosystems we depend on.
A decade ago, world leaders updated an earlier pledge to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) with a mandate to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020.
But MPAs cover only 7.66% of the ocean across the globe. Most protected sites are in national waters where it’s easy to implement and manage protection under the provision of a single country.
In the more remote areas of the high seas, only 1.18% of marine ecosystems have been gifted sanctuary.
The Southern Ocean accounts for a large portion of this meagre percentage, hosting two MPAs. The South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA covers 94,000 square kilometres, while the Ross Sea region MPA stretches across more than 2 million square kilometres, making it the largest in the world.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for this achievement. Unlike other international fisheries management bodies, the commission’s legal convention allows for the closing of marine areas for conservation purposes.
A comparable mandate for MPAs in other areas of the high seas has been nowhere in sight — until now.
In 2017, the UN started negotiations towards a new comprehensive international treaty for the high seas. The treaty aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine organisms in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It would also implement a global legal mechanism to establish MPAs in international waters.
This innovative international agreement provides an opportunity to work across institutional boundaries towards comprehensive high seas governance and protection. It is crucial to use lessons drawn from existing high seas marine protection initiatives, such as those in the Southern Ocean, to inform the treaty’s development.
The final round of treaty negotiations is pending, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and significant detail within the treaty’s draft text remains undeveloped and open for further debate.
Lessons from Southern Ocean management
CCAMLR comprises 26 member states (including the European Union) and meets annually to make conservation-based decisions by unanimous consensus. In 2002, the commission committed to establishing a representative network of MPAs in Antarctica in alignment with globally agreed targets for the world’s oceans.
The two established MPAs in the high seas are far from an ecologically representative network of protection. In October 2020, the commission continued negotiations for three additional MPAs, which would meet the 10% target for the Southern Ocean, if agreed.
But not a single proposal was agreed. For one of the proposals, the East Antarctic MPA, this marks the eighth year of failed negotiations.
CCAMLR’s progress towards its commitment for a representative MPA network may have ground to a halt, but the commission has gained invaluable knowledge about the challenges in establishing MPAs in international waters. CCAMLR has demonstrated that with an effective convention and legal framework, MPAs in the high seas are possible.
The commission understands the extent to which robust scientific information must inform MPA proposals and how to navigate inevitable trade-offs between conservation and economic interests. Such knowledge is important for the UN treaty process.
As the high seas treaty moves closer to adoption, it stands to outpace the commission regarding progress towards improved marine conservation. Already, researchers have identified high-priority areas for protection in the high seas, including in Antarctica.
Many species cross the Southern Ocean boundary into other regions. This makes it even more important for CCAMLR to integrate its management across regional fisheries organisations – and the new treaty could facilitate this engagement.
But the window of time is closing with only one round of negotiation left for the UN treaty. Research tells us Antarctic decision-makers need to use the opportunity to ensure the treaty supports marine protection commitments.
Stronger Antarctic leadership is urgently needed to safeguard the Southern Ocean — and beyond.
Australia is on track to meet its 2030 Paris climate targets without resorting to carryover credits and could exceed them with the aid of the recently-announced technology roadmap, according to projections to be released on Thursday.
Australia has pledged to reduce emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.
The annual update of emissions projections shows that to meet the 26% cut, without using carryover credits, a further reduction of 56 million tonnes would be needed over the decade to 2030.
To reach the higher target of a 28% cut without the credits, a reduction of 123 million tonnes would be required over the decade.
Neither of these scenarios includes the technology investment roadmap – which is the government’s policy to support new and emerging energy technologies to a price that is comparable with higher emitting alternatives.
The Minister for Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said if the roadmap was taken into account, “Australia is projected to beat its 2030 target by 145 million tonnes”.
This would be without relying on the credits which have been gained from exceeding earlier targets.
“Under this scenario, Australia’s emissions are projected to be 29% below 2005 levels by 2030,” Taylor said.
Scott Morrison has flagged the government won’t use the carryovers if they are not necessary to meet Australia’s commitments.
He is set to confirm this when he addresses a Pacific Islands Forum virtual climate summit on Friday. This precedes the Climate Ambition Summit hosted by Britain, France and the United Nations at the weekend to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris accord.
The Pacific summit is aimed at putting pressure on the weekend meeting, which is being called “the sprint to Glasgow”, the delayed climate conference to be held in a year’s time.
There has been argy bargy over whether Morrison could get a speaking role at the weekend meeting, where leaders are being asked to make new commitments. As of Wednesday, he was not expected to be a speaker.
The update in the Australia’s emissions projections 2020 report shows Australia’s position against the 2030 target has improved by more than 300 million tonnes since the 2019 projections, and by 639 million tonnes since 2018.
The improvement since 2018 is equivalent to taking all of the country’s passenger vehicles off the road for 15 years.
Emissions are projected to decline to 478 million tonnes in 2030 which is 22% below 2005 levels. Incorporating the technology investment roadmap, emissions are forecast to be 436 million tonnes in 2030 – 29% below 2005 levels.
The update says the downward revision in the 2020 projections reflects:
the inclusion of new measures to speed up the development and deployment of low emissions technologies in the recent budget
a further reduction in projected emissions from the electricity sector due to continued strong uptake of renewables – especially small and mid-scale solar – by households and businesses; and
the temporary effect of COVID-related restrictions on the economy.
Today marks the end of Australia’s commitments under the Kyoto climate deal as we move to its successor, the Paris Agreement. Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor on Wednesday was quick to hail Australia’s success in smashing the Kyoto emissions targets. But let’s be clear: our record is nothing to boast about.
Taylor says Australia has beaten Kyoto by up to 430 million tonnes — or 80% of one year of national emissions. On that record, he said, “Australians can be confident that we’ll meet and beat our 2030 Paris target”.
The fact that Australia exceeded its Kyoto targets means it’s accrued so-called “carryover” carbon credits. It plans to use these to cover about half the emission reduction required under the Paris commitment by 2030.
But there’s been little scrutiny of why Australia met the Kyoto targets so easily. The reason dates back more than 20 years, when Australia demanded the Kyoto rules be skewed in its favour. Using those old credits to claim climate action today is cheating the system. Let’s look at why.
Australian scorns the spirit of Paris
The Kyoto Protocol was an international treaty negotiated in 1997. Industrialised nations collectively pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels. The reductions were to be made between 2008 and 2012.
Any surplus emissions reduction in the first Kyoto period could be carried over to the second period, from 2013 to 2020. In the name of climate action, five developed countries – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK – voluntarily cancelled their surplus credits.
However, Australia held onto its credits. Now it wants to use them to meet its Paris target – reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
This is clearly not in the spirit of the Paris agreement. And importantly, the history of Kyoto shows Australia did not deserve to earn the credits in the first place.
Under Kyoto, each nation was assigned a target – measured against the nation’s specific baseline of emissions produced in 1990. During negotiations, Australia insisted on rules that worked in its favour.
Instead of reducing its emissions by 5.2%, it successfully demanded a lenient target that meant emissions in 2012 could be 8% more than they were in 1990.
Our negotiators argued we had special economic circumstances – that our dependence on fossil fuels and energy-intensive exports meant cutting emissions would be difficult. Australia threatened to walk away from the negotiations if its demand was not met.
Australia then waited until the final moments of negotiations – when many delegates were exhausted and translators had gone home – to make another surprising demand. It would only sign up to Kyoto if its 1990 emissions baseline (the year future reductions would be measured against) included emissions produced from clearing forests.
Here’s the catch. Australia’s emissions from forest clearing in 1990 were substantial, totalling about a quarter of total emissions, or 131.5 million tonnes of carbon.
Forest clearing in Australia plummeted after 1990, when Queensland enacted tough new land clearing laws. So including deforestation emissions in Australia’s baseline meant we would never really struggle to meet – or as it turned out, beat – our targets. In fact, the rule effectively rewarded Australia for its mass deforestation in 1990.
Then prime minister John Howard declared the deal to be “splendid”.
A new round of Kyoto negotiations took place in 2010, for the second commitment period. Under the Gillard Labor government, Australia agreed to an underwhelming 5% decrease in emissions between 2013 and 2020.
Australia insisted on using the deforestation clause again, despite international pressure to drop it. It meant Australia’s carbon budget in the second period was about 26% higher than it would have been without the concession.
Had forest clearing not been included in the 1990 baseline, Australia’s emissions in 2017 were 31.8% above 1990 levels.
At the Madrid climate talks last year, Australia reiterated its plans to use its surplus Kyoto credits under Paris. Without the accounting trick, Australia is not on track to meet its Paris targets.
If you want this carryover, it is just cheating. Australia was willing in a way to destroy the whole system, because that is the way to destroy the whole Paris agreement.
Whether Australia will be allowed to use the surplus credits is another question, as the Paris rulebook is still being finalised.
Analysts say there is no legal basis for using the surplus credits, because Kyoto and Paris are separate treaties.
Australia appears the only country shameless enough to try the tactic. At Senate estimates last year, officials said they knew of no other nation planning to use carryover credits.
Nothing to be proud of
Some hoped Australia’s recent bushfire disaster might be a positive turning point for climate policy. But the signs are not good. The Morrison government is talking up the role of gas in Australia’s energy transition, and has so far failed to seize the opportunity to recharge the economy through renewables investment.
Crowing on Wednesday about Australia’s over-achievement on Kyoto, Taylor said the result was “something all Australians can be proud of”.
But Australia abandoned its moral obligations under Kyoto. And by carrying our surplus credits into the Paris deal, we risk cementing our status as a global climate pariah.
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.
As it transpired, that target was easily met. But the then industry minister Ian Macfarlane described the task as an “enormous challege”, and industry figures suggested the required wind energy was “almost impossible”. Even Taylor initially said the target was “too high”.
The cut itself was bad enough for the renewable energy industry. But the uncertainty created during the review devastated investment.
Investment did boom following bipartisan support for the new, lower target. But we can only speculate what may have been possible without the uncertainty created by the review.
It’s not looking rosy for renewables
The drop-off in investment is a worrying trend for the renewable energy industry, and for climate action more broadly. We can expect a drop-off in new additions in capacity in line with the drop in investment.
The table above shows the current committed projects for next 12-18 months. While more projects are likely to be committed over the next 18 months, it’s hard to see the peak of 2018 repeated soon, particularly with investment dropping away.
The achievement of the renewable energy target leaves a federal policy void. Renewable energy may now be the lowest-cost source of new electricity supply. But it is competing against assets such as coal-fired power stations with sunk costs – meaning that new renewables projects are essentially competing only with a coal plant’s fuel costs. Absent a price on carbon or similar policy, coal assets are allowed to pollute the atmosphere for free.
There are lessons to be learned from Germany to ensure a less bumpy transition to a decarbonised electricity sector. “Deployment corridors” help make the development of renewable energy sources more predictable, improve integration into the power system, and keep additional costs to consumers manageable.
But unless emissions-intensive generation closes or renewable energy support is reintroduced, renewable energy expansion in Australia is unlikely to proceed at the pace required to meet the Paris targets. Keeping the global average temperature rise well below 2℃ requires “rapid and profound near-term decarbonisation of energy supply” and strong upscaling of renewables.
The states are attempting to fill the federal policy gap. Several have their own renewable energy support schemes and all states in the east coast’s National Electricity Market have committed to net zero emissions by 2050.
Continued renewables growth also requires transmission infrastructure and storage technologies to ensure the distributed energy can be delivered where it is needed, and that reliability is maintained. Several states have also recently committed resources to transmission investment.
The state-led action calls into question the effectiveness of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) energy council. The group comprises the nation’s energy ministers and claims to maintain national “policy leadership” on energy. However it hasn’t met in almost nine months and its overarching agreement is more then 15 years old, and doesn’t refer to environmental outcomes or emissions cuts.
A new direction for the council is probably wishful thinking in the current political environment. But as emissions continue to rise in Australia, the need for significant reform only intensifies.
In the absence of a new national target, the states have been leading the way and driving renewable energy in Australia. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland between them have invested some A$20 billion into building 11,400 megawatts of generation capacity.
While the states have worked admirably to advance renewable energy – and federal energy policy has long been politically toxic – there is a clear cost to pursuing many fragmented policies instead of a unified vision.
Our research, modelling the effect of state versus national renewable energy targets in the National Energy Market system found there was little difference in the overall cost, but that states without strong renewable targets tended to miss out on investment.
We need national thinking
Most jurisdictions have net zero emissions targets by 2050. States also have ambitious but achievable shorter-term renewable energy targets and programs.
There are plenty of arguments for states pursuing their own renewable energy targets, not least because they can fill the policy vacuum left at the national level.
States are responding to the immediate need to replace retiring power stations and can explore innovation with greater ambition. It makes perfect sense for states to compete to attract jobs and investment.
But Australia’s federal government has a domestic and international obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. National policies are more efficient, can harness better resources across our diverse geography and maximise returns for the whole system.
What’s more – as many column inches have pointed out – strong federal policy improves investment certainty and reliability, lowering the cost of inevitable infrastructure upgrades. And those upgrades can be better integrated into our existing national electricity system if the building (and money) doesn’t stop at internal borders.
We simulated two scenarios: first, that all states implement polices to achieve their respective renewable energy and net zero emissions targets by 2050.
The second scenario assumed a national target would be used to result in the “same outcome” of 100% renewable energy by 2050.
The model calculates required energy investments with 5-year increments from today to 2050, including considering the existing generation currently operating. The model simultaneously optimises the mix of generation, transmission and storage to minimise the total system cost from 2020 to 2050.
A key difference in results is where and when new generation is built. Under the state-driven approach, unsurprisingly, investment shifts towards states with more ambitious targets.
The two figures below show how state-based targets drive more investment into Queensland than would be the case under a national target scheme.
Broadly speaking, under a national target, we see more efficient use of renewable energy and associated resources. NSW – with net zero 2050 target but no interim renewable energy target – would get a greater share of the renewable energy investment.
NSW would consistently see substantially more investment under a national target scheme. This would be around 20% more generation in the 2030s in NSW, and up to 20 terawatt-hours more energy generated in the years 2030 to 2045.
The rollout of “where and when” to build new renewable and other generation to replace ageing fossil fuel power plants also impacts heavily on the sequencing and timing for major transmission upgrades across the NEM – especially interconnectors between states.
The graph shows that under a state target based approach we build more transmission infrastructure earlier than under a national approach. Under a national target approach, we would end up building more transmission infrastructure – albeit later.
Again, broadly speaking, we would build more generation at renewable energy resource-rich areas such as NSW which happen to be near major demand centres like cities. This would delay the need for some infrastructure spend.
What about system reliability and energy costs?
The good news is it appears under either a state-based or a national target approach the outcome in 2050 is similar. The difference in total system costs is only about 1% higher in the state-based targets scenario – so, virtually nothing.
State-based renewable energy targets lead to redistribution of renewable investments in favour of the states with a mid-term renewable energy target.
In the Australian context, the current state-based renewable energy targets have no impact on undermining power system reliability and virtually negligible impact on pushing up power prices.
Perhaps NSW should take particular note – as it would appear that it would benefit greatly from either a national target approach or an interim state target for itself.
The debate about state versus national approaches to energy policy has been going for the past 30 years and no doubt will be around for another 30. In the meantime, we need a stronger hand on the transition tiller or we will waste precious resources and time, and likely have major unintended consequences.
A Shorten government would add about 100 high polluters to those subject to an emissions cap, and drastically slash the present cap’s level, under the opposition’s climate policy released on Monday.
Labor would aim for a new threshold under a revamp of the existing safeguards mechanism of 25,000 tonnes of direct carbon dioxide pollution annually, which would be phased in after consultation with industry.
This would be a major reduction from the current cap of 100,000 tonnes. About 140 to 160 polluters come under the existing cap.
The safeguards mechanism was established by the Coalition government to cap pollution for the biggest polluters by setting limits or “baselines” for facilities covered. But Labor says it has been ineffective.
On transport, the policy sets an ambitious target of having electric vehicles form 50% of new car sales by 2030. The government fleet would have an electric vehicle target of 50% of new purchases and leases of passenger vehicles by 2025.
The climate change policy covers industry, transport and agriculture, with the proposed measures for the electricity sector, including an in-principle commitment to a national energy guarantee (NEG) and subsidies for batteries, already announced.
The agriculture sector would not be covered by the expanded safeguards policy.
The government’s emissions reduction fund – recently allocated a further A$2 billion over a decade and renamed – would be scrapped if Labor wins the May election.
The climate policy is the third of three key policy announcements the opposition wanted to make before the election is called, likely next weekend. The others were the wages policy and the announcement of the start date – January 1 – for the proposed crackdown on negative gearing.
The opposition has committed itself to a 45% economy-wide reduction in emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030, compared with the government’s commitment to a reduction of 26-28%.
Labor’s policy confirms that it would not use Australia’s credits from the expiring Kyoto Protocol to help meet its Paris target, saying this course is “fake action on climate change”. Bill Shorten said on Sunday: “It’s only the Australian Liberal Party and the Ukraine proposing to use these carryover credits that I am aware of.”
Labor says it would “work in partnership with business to help bring down pollution.”
“Labor’s approach isn’t about punishing polluters. It’s about partnering with industry to find real, practical solutions to cut pollution, in a way that protects and grows industry and jobs.”
“There will be no carbon tax, carbon pricing mechanism, or government revenue,” Labor says.
“Rather, Labor will reduce pollution from the biggest industrial polluters by extending the existing pollution cap implemented by Malcolm Turnbull.”
“Pollution caps will be reduced over time and Labor will make it easier for businesses to meet these caps by allowing for industrial and international offsets.”
The expanded scheme’s new threshold would capture an estimated 250 of the biggest industrial polluters – 0.01% of all businesses.
Businesses would be able to earn credits for “overachievement” – reducing pollution below their baselines. They could sell these credits or use them to meet their future cap.
“Tailored” treatment would be provided to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries (EITEs) such as steel, aluminium and cement. There would be a A$300 million Strategic Industries Reserve Fund “to support these industries in finding solutions to cut pollution and remain competitive”.
A Shorten government would consult with industry and experts on baselines for individual entities and the timing of reduction.
It would also put in place “a well-functioning offset market and reinvigorate the land offset market”.
“Currently, a facility that emits more than its baseline must offset excess emissions by purchasing offsets, primarily from the land sector. But currently businesses cannot access international offsets, or offsets from the electricity sector.
“Labor will make it easier for covered businesses to meet any offset obligations, not only by allowing for the creation and sale of offsets if emissions fall below baselines, but also through the purchase of international offsets and potentially offsets from the electricity sector.
“We will also boost offset supply through revitalising the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) – including reforms to strengthen the integrity of the CFI, and increasing land and other sector abatement opportunities.
“This will include exploring the establishment of ‘premium’ land sector credits to provide substantial environmental, biodiversity and other co-benefits, establishing a Carbon Assessment Standard to boost the bankability of offset projects, and re-vitalising offset methodology research and development with an additional A$40 million in funding over four years.
“Labor’s plan will help industry reduce pollution at least cost, and give traditional owners, farmers, the forestry industry and traditional owners new opportunities to earn income.”
On transport – which accounts for nearly 20% of Australia’s emissions – Labor says Australia is now last among western countries for electric vehicle uptake.
“Setting a national target will deliver more affordable electric vehicles into the Australian market and drive the switch to electric vehicles, reducing their cost, creating thousands of jobs and cutting pollution.”
Businesses would get an upfront tax deduction to buy electric vehicles, as part of the ALP’s announced Australian Investment Guarantee.
One aspect of moving quickly to government electric vehicle fleets would be that it would develop a secondhand market, Labor says.
“Labor will also work with industry to introduce vehicle emissions standards, to save Australian motorists hundreds of dollars each year at the bowser while driving down pollution on our roads.
“Australia is now one of the only developed nations without vehicle emissions standards in place. As a result, motorists will pay as much as A$500 each year more at the bowser than they should be, as well as seeing pollution on our roads skyrocket.
“Labor will consult on the timeline and coverage of vehicle emission standards to ensure consumers are made significantly better off, and aim to phase-in standards of 105g CO₂/km for light vehicles, which is consistent with Climate Change Authority advice.”
These standards would be in line with those in the United States but less stringent than those in the European Union.
“These standards will be applied to car retailers to meet average emissions standards, rather than imposing blanket mandatory standards on manufacturers.
“This will allow retailers to meet the standards by offsetting high emissions car sales with low or zero emissions car sales – such as electric vehicles.”
The government has reacted predictably to the Labor climate plan, branding it a “new tax”, ahead of what will be a major Coalition scare campaign in the election.
Scott Morrison said the opposition leader “does not have a plan, he just has another tax.
“What we’ve got here is a ‘re-Rudd’ of a failed policy that costs jobs, that costs businesses, that will cost Australians at least $9,000 a year, with the reckless targets that Bill Shorten will make law.”
On electric cars, Morrison said Shorten needed to explain how in 10 years he would take them from 0.2% of the market to 50% – because if he didn’t achieve his “reckless target […] he has to come back and get that money off you”.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Shorten policy “would be a wrecking ball in the economy.
“It would raise the price of electricity and the price of gas and the price of food and the price of cars. Labor needs to come clean on the detail – not just the mechanism, which we know is the carbon tax.”
The Business Council of Australia welcomed the further details Labor had provided but said there were unanswered questions including “what mechanism will drive and manage the transition to lower-emissions generation in the electricity sector?”
“It remains unclear how abatement will be delivered in the electricity sector and how the various announcements made today will contribute to an economy-wide emissions reduction target,” the BCA said.
It said it had strongly supported the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and called on the ALP, if elected, “to commit to working with the states and territories to implement the scheme as a credible, market-based mechanism to drive abatement and investment in the electricity sector.”
The Labor party has supported in principle a NEG – the plan the Coalition dumped because of an internal split over it.
The Australian Conservation Foundation gave Labor’s policy a qualified tick, describing it as “a serious policy response to the existential threat of global warming that recognises pollution must be cut across all industry sectors.”
“Labor’s climate change plan does address many of the important challenges Australia has in transforming into a zero-pollution economy,” the ACF said.
But “unfortunately, sections of Labor’s policy platform contain significant wriggle room that big polluters may seek to exploit.
“If it wins government Labor must quickly harden the detail around its policies and resist attempts of industry lobby groups like the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Automobile Association to weaken climate action.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In practice, these terms depend largely on the infrastructure available. Single-use plastic bags are a good example of a product that is technically recyclable but which is not accepted in most councils’ kerbside recycling collection. That’s because they are often contaminated with food waste and many councils lack the machinery to process them.
On its own, the new 100% target is not enough, because it doesn’t guarantee that recyclable or reusable items will definitely be recycled or reused. To really make a difference, we also need policies and market incentives to ensure that these things end up where we want them to.
We can see this principle in action by looking at the issue of drink containers. Glass and plastic bottles are already 100% recyclable, yet there is a stark difference in recycling rates between states that do have container deposit schemes, and those that don’t.
Despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ attempt at a National Waste Account in 2013, little nationwide data are available, thanks to a lack of a consistent reporting framework across different jurisdictions.
Plastic not fantastic
In sectors where not all waste is fully recyclable, the problem is more complex still. Of the seven categories of plastic packaging, only three are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles). The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics – are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates. While these plastics will still be allowed under the new target as they are technically recyclable, the new target might prompt a switch to less problematic materials.
Globally, around 78 million tonnes of plastic is used every year, but only 14% is collected for recycling, while 14% is incinerated and the remaining 72% ends up in landfill or as litter in the environment.
The problems are no less vexing for other types of waste. With market rates for many types of recyclable paper having dropped to zero in the wake of China’s import restrictions, it will be hard to see how some products will be recycled at all, if left purely to economic forces.
Retailers may have to embrace more innovative solutions to improve the quality of recycling waste, such as reverse vending machines, which accept items such as aluminium cans and plastic or glass bottles – as long as they are cleaned and sorted. However, without creating a local waste market or government incentives, we cannot expect retailers to buy their packaging back.
And this is before we even consider the complexities of composting and reuse. Compostable waste as a whole is already facing problems due to a high contamination rate, and lack of separate bin for recycling organic waste in many local councils. Reuse, meanwhile, needs us to tackle the eternal problem of people’s perceptions and behaviour about using old packaging again.
Will some kinds of packaging disappear?
Under the product stewardship initiative, which calls on producers and retailers to take care of the waste produced after consumption of goods, it seems more likely that some materials will simply be phased out of the product supply chain altogether.
The impending plastic bag bans in several states and leading supermarkets offers a chance to replace them not with heavier, more durable plastic, but with biodegradable, renewable and eco-friendly natural materials such as hemp.
In turn, this would boost hemp production (alongside the legalisation of hemp-based medicine and food products in Australia). This could lead to the opportunity for manufacturing industry to produce environmentally friendly biodegradable plastics. Hemp-based biodegradable plastic would significantly safeguard the environment, even if we failed to achieve a 100% recycling of biodegradable plastic packaging. Similarly, glass or aluminium might be used instead of plastic, and are more easily recycled.
Even more innovatively, we might even see the arrival of edible packaging derived from the milk protein casein, formed into film rather like plastic cling wrap, which can be used to package foods such as butter or cheese.
We’ve established that it’s not enough simply to set a target of making 100% of our waste recyclable, compostable or reusable. To really feel the benefits we need a follow-on target, such as actually recycling 100% of our packaging by 2030.
For this to work, we would need three things:
legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.
Finally, we should remember that waste prevention is better than waste management. Everyone – from governments, to manufacturers, to retailers, to consumers – should focus first on generating less waste in the first place. Then the fiendish problem of what to do with our waste will be all the smaller.