A damning report from the
Therefore, the OECD’s third Environmental Performance Review of Australia claims that the country will fall short of its 2030 emissions target unless a major effort is made to transition to a low-carbon economy.
“Australia is home to a tenth of global species and is seen by many as synonymous with pristine coastal areas and an outback brimming with nature,” said OECD Deputy Environment Director Anthony Cox, launching the Review in Canberra. “However, the country is increasingly exposed to rising sea levels, floods, heat waves, bushfires and drought. This makes it all the more important that Australia take a more proactive role in fighting climate change and addressing biodiversity loss.”
Despite the fact that Australia has managed to, at least in part, decouple economic growth from primary environmental pressures and has taken steps towards replacing coal with natural gas and renewables in electricity generation, the country nevertheless remains one of the most resource- and carbon-intensive OECD countries and the country’s electricity mix remains heavily reliant upon coal. As can be seen below, the progress Australia has achieved is mediocre at best, and coal still accounts for 62% of the country’s electricity generation mix.
As can be seen, renewable electricity generation only sits at 16% — well below the OECD average of 25% — while coal, oil, and gas account for 93% of the country’s overall energy mix, compared to the OECD average of 80%. Further, Australia’s power sector — the country’s top greenhouse gas emitting sector — is not subject to emission reduction constraints, severely undermining any policy promises and announcements the country has made over the last decade.
Serving to underscore both the need for action and the absurdity of the country’s inaction is the impact climate change is already having on Australia. According to the OECD, the country has warmed by 0.9ºC over the past 60 years with most of the warmest years on record happening since 2005. Increased rainfall and increased drought are both expected to become more extreme in the years to come, and bushfire smoke and dust will increasingly affect air quality. Australia’s oceans are warming, rising, and are expected to become more acidic, all of which are increasing pressure on the Great Barrier Reef.
The OECD report finds that having surpassed its Kyoto 2008-12 target and remaining on track to achieve its 2020 climate target, Australia still “needs to intensify efforts to reach its Paris Agreement goal.” Further, according to the OECD report, “Adopting an integrated energy and climate policy framework for 2030 with an emission reduction goal for the power sector would avoid the projected rise in greenhouse gas emissions.” Specific recommendations made in the report include:
- Implement a national integrated energy and climate policy framework for 2030 based on a low-emission development strategy for 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.
- Bring energy taxes in line with the environmental impacts of fuel use. This implies taxing fuels that are currently exempt and increasing rates that are too low.
- Extend road use pricing through distance-based and congestion charges.
- Fill gaps in data on the status and trends of species and ecosystems, and establish national biodiversity indicators to measure progress and identify priorities for action.
- Increase investment in biodiversity conservation ecological restoration in line with the scale of the challenge.
- Improve monitoring of water resources, abstraction and quality across river basins. Do more to address water pollution from agriculture.
“Given the unprecedented climate disruption we have seen across Australia this summer including heat waves, drought conditions, floods and bush fires, it is imperative that the government takes urgent action to keep warming at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Monica Richter, Senior Manager – Low Carbon Futures with WWF-Australia, who spoke to me via email. “We are already at 1 degree Celsius of warming and this climate disruption will only get worse if we don’t act quickly.
“Australia’s Environmental Performance from the OECD is a report card that delivers a clear FAIL on our ability to protect Australia’s environment and what’s at stake in terms of loss of Australia’s iconic species including Koalas and the Great Barrier Reef,” Richter continued. “While adapting to climate change is now inevitable we can also drive the transition to a zero carbon future through the widespread rollout of renewable energy. A quarter of Australia’s electricity now comes from renewable energy sources and this is set to grow particularly as the price of renewables is on par with existing coal-fired power.”
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