With a successful climate accord reached in Paris, Australia faces a tough road ahead to even begin to contribute effectively to halting global warming.
As we have already seen, Australia saw a mild change in energy policy throughout 2015 which allowed its representatives to attend and contribute to the Paris negotiations without looking like the world’s most petulant supporter of coal mining ever. Whether Australia’s representatives in Paris managed to contribute anything helpful is another question, but with a legally-binding climate accord reached for 2020 onwards, Australia’s energy and climate policies will need to be radically improved if it is to meet its contribution to the global agreement.
“Although imperfect, the deal struck in Paris is likely to require Australia to significantly strengthen it’s 2030 emissions reduction commitment in the 5 yearly review points, starting in 2020,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, Head of Australia, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, via email this week. “It also naturally implies that global usage of coal will need to be curbed if the stated ambitions are to be met, which will reduce demand for Australia’s exports. However the agreement falls well short of actually requiring global fossil fuel usage to be curbed via any concrete measures.”
Australia has been one of the world’s leading coal miners for decades, and under former-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, coal mining was only further entrenched into the country’s economy. There are several small signposts that things may be changing — and a few more that suggests nothing has changed at all, with the country’s Environment Minister approving the construction of a new coal mine earlier this month — but without concrete measures being forced upon Australia to curb its production of coal, things are going to take even longer to change.
“Australia’s current pledge of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 is — like most countries — not consistent with the agreed goal of limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” Kobad Bhavnagri continued. “It will thus likely need to be deepened towards the 45-65% range recommended by the Climate Change Authority as Australia’s fair contribution in reaching this temperature goal.
“Deeper cuts in emissions imply that Australia will also need to hasten the deployment of renewable energy, make more concrete steps to reduce usage of fossil-fuels, especially coal, and develop more robust, scalable and non-government funded carbon policy if the emissions reductions are to be achieved domestically. This could involve a 2030 Renewable Energy Target, specific policy aimed at retiring coal-fired generators and increased regulations on, or pricing of, carbon emissions.”
The transition to renewable energy was similarly halted by former-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and has similarly seen a shift in attention, following numerous public declarations of support from Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and his Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, Josh Frydenberg.
“We have already seen huge changes recently in the way we produce and use energy, and this is just the beginning. New technologies such as battery storage will completely revolutionise the way we think about energy within a decade,” said Kane Thornton, Chief Executive of Australia’s Clean Energy Council.
“The deal announced in Paris will accelerate a change that is already happening – a shift towards a zero-carbon energy sector in the decades ahead. It is no longer a question of whether or not this will happen. The question is now about what we need to do to prepare for the changes that have already begun.”
This is not just a view held by incumbents in the renewable energy industry itself — though Kane Thornton goes on to say that “Australia is blessed with some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the jobs of the 21st Century,” highlighting the huge role Australia could have with the right policy.
The Managing Director of one of Australia’s leading energy suppliers, Origin Energy, is of a similar mind to those in the renewable energy industry. “The targets set in Paris will frame action on climate change and support the development of sound and enduring policy for the decades ahead,” said Grant King, Origin’s Managing Director (PDF). “The next step is for Australia to develop the right settings for our own economy and our own conditions.”
More important, Mr King went on to highlight the role Australia’s energy sector will be faced with in the next fifteen years.
“Australia’s 2030 target will require a significant transformation of the energy sector. Given Origin’s track record in renewables and strategic interests in gas-fired generation, we’re ready and willing to lead the response, and look forward to working with government, industry and the broader community on the right policies and initiatives to achieve or better the target.”
Origin was the world’s first energy company to sign on to all seven of the We Mean Business coalition’s commitments on climate change, and further went on to announce that it would exit from all coal-fired generation by 2030.