A new report conducted by the Australian National University and commissioned by WWF-Australia concludes that Australia could undertake an ambitious emissions reduction program and even reach 100% renewables and zero net emissions by 2050, all at a relatively low cost.
Pressure On Australia’s Political Failures
The report reviews several major studies from the past eight years, and comes at just the right time to impact deliberation on the Australian Government’s plans for post-2020 emission reduction targets. Much has been said about Australia’s poor political willpower to join the rest of the world in making tough emissions targets and prioritizing clean energy, enough that numerous UN delegates recently presented Australia with a bevy of questions seeking explanations.
No answer has been forthcoming — which is completely unsurprising, once you take a look at the sheer scale of the current government’s attempts to prioritize coal-fired energy generation. In just the past few weeks, reports have been released showing that the Australian renewable energy industry lost 2,300 jobs over the last two years; clean energy investment in Australia dropped 90% since March 31, 2014; and one of Australia’s largest polluters, and one of the country’s number one utilities, has even released their plan to completely decarbonise by 2050.
And yet the current Liberal Australian Government continues to prove its allegiance to fossil fuels, as exemplified by a recent white paper published by the government outlining the planned future of the country’s energy industry.
Deep Emissions Cuts “At A Low Cost”
The new report by the Australian National University (ANU), however, makes it clear that reliance upon fossil fuels for cheap, affordable, and widespread energy is unnecessary.
“Deep cuts to Australia’s emissions can be achieved, at a low cost,” said one of the author’s of the report, Associate Professor Frank Jotzo, from Australian National University. “With our abundant renewable resources we are one of the best placed countries in the world for moving to a fully renewable electricity supply. Australia can achieve zero net emissions by harnessing energy efficiency, moving to a zero-carbon electricity system, switching from direct use of fossil fuels to decarbonised electricity, and improving industrial processes.”
“Australia needs to do its fair share to help limit global warming to well below 2 degrees warming to keep Australia great,” said Kellie Caught, Climate Change National Manager for WWF-Australia. “We need an ambitious, science-based pollution reduction target so that we can ensure Australia’s natural beauty will still be around for our children and future generations.”
And that solution is clear, according to Caught: “set an ambitious long-term goal for reducing carbon pollution, and take decisive action to make it happen. That’s the kind of leadership hardworking taxpayers deserve – let’s commit to leaving things better than we found them.”
2025 Target Should Be 30%, CCA
At the same time as ANU’s report was released, Australia’s Climate Change Authority also released a first draft of its Special Review, commissioned by the Minister for the Environment, which “is intended primarily as input to the Government’s deliberations on emissions reduction targets.”
The Climate Change Authority (CCA) is recommending a 2025 target for Australia of 30% below 2000 levels, which the CCA considers “comparable to the efforts of other countries.”
Targets, trajectories and national emissions budget
“It is often asserted that because Australia is such a small emitter, whatever it does won’t make much difference to the global picture,” said the CCA’s Chair, Bernie Fraser.
“Australia’s emissions do represent less than 1.5 per cent of global emissions but it has less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, making Australia the largest per capita emitter of all developed countries. In absolute terms Australia’s emissions are on par with those of the UK, which has about three times the population of Australia; the fact that UK emissions are also less than 1.5 per cent of global emissions has not deterred that country from continuing to adopt ambitious actions to wind back its emissions to support the 2 degrees goal.”
However, as Mr Fraser points out, more might be required from Australia if we can’t work out our 2020 goals first.
“This draft report follows the comprehensive review released in February 2014 in which the Authority recommended, among other things, a 19 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 2000 levels. That remains an appropriate target for 2020 in the Authority’s view, if Australia is to be a serious contributor to achieving the 2 degrees goal. The Government, however, has shown no inclination to budge from the minimum target of a 5 per cent reduction by 2020; if that turns out to be the best Australia can do over the next few years it will necessitate more rapid and potentially more costly reductions post-2020.”
“Australia can Cut Emissions Deeply and the Cost is Low”
These are the headline words of the Australian National University/WWF report (PDF), which provides six main points to underline its main findings.
“Strong global climate change action is in Australia’s best interest,” write the authors of the report, noting that though Australia may not be anywhere near the head of the pack, it must and will be expected to pull its weight. Furthermore, as one of the most vulnerable developed nations, a push for stronger global climate action is in the country’s best interests.
Another important point made is that “Australia’s economy will continue to grow as deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are made” — or, it would, if such cuts were ever likely. According to the authors, “the economic cost even of strong climate action in Australia is small relative to ongoing economic growth.” This is even more likely, for, as the authors go on to note in another of their highlighted points, “cutting emissions is getting cheaper, and achieving given targets tend to be cheaper than expected.” However, such evidential facts are often obscured by Australian politics, in favor of sketchy pro-coal agendas.
In the end, the growing weight of evidence being lined up against the current Australian government’s stance on climate change and energy use is sure to have its day in court, but the growing pains as we wait for that day may be too much for the industry as it stands now.