In 2015, the Climate Change Authority recommended emissions reduction targets for the government to take to the Paris climate conference:
- a 2025 target of 30 per cent below 2000 levels
- further reductions by 2030 of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels
In response, Labor proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, zero net emissions by 2050, and ongoing 5-yearly reviews to assess progress and to adjust commitments over time.
The move to 2005 as a base year, made by Abbott and adopted by Labor, made a significant difference to how big the promises sound. To illustrate how much, Australia’s annual emissions for the year to June 2021 were estimated to be 10.4% below emissions in the year to June 2000 but a whopping 20.4% below emissions in the year to June 2005. Hey presto, an extra 10% reduction towards our target already achieved just by changing years.
The seven years since 2015 have been the hottest on record and they have all been more than 1℃ above pre-industrial levels. With back-to-back La Niña events resulting in the sixth hottest year on record, some are suggesting that 2021 may well be the coldest year we’ll ever experience again. Australia has already experienced warming of 1.4C.
In October 2020, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements tabled their report in parliament. It makes for scary reading about the increased risk Australia is facing from the effects of global warming.
“We can also expect more concurrent and consecutive hazard events. For example, in the last 12 months there was drought, heatwaves and bushfires, followed by severe storms, flooding and a pandemic.”
Last year, a report from the Climate Council warned that Australian governments, businesses, industries and communities can and must cut emissions deeply, aiming to reduce emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2035.
“Australia, as an advanced economy and major emitter, and one with unrivalled potential for renewable energy and other climate solutions, should be a leader not a laggard, and reduce its emissions even faster than the required global average. Every tonne of emissions avoided matters, and every delay has an escalating cost. We urge you all to take this report seriously and respond accordingly.” — Professor Christopher Field and Dr Kevin Trenberth
In this context, Labor made the unique decision to weaken their emissions reduction target.
They looked at the policies they were willing to take to an election, added up what reductions they would bring about, and made that their target – 43% below 2005 levels. It seems a pedantic change, perhaps typical of new shadow minister for such things, Chris Bowen.
A better approach would be to set the target the scientists tell us we must achieve, devise or ramp up the policies to get there, and adequately communicate with the public and business to bring them along.
Labor’s plan for the electricity sector shows penetration of renewables over 80% by 2030 with better transmission networks, community batteries and ‘shared solar banks’ for apartments. These are great ideas.
But in projected transport emissions, there is minuscule reduction. They are too scared to have combustion engine phaseout targets and they recently dropped a fuel emissions standard.
Labor will keep the Coalition’s (not so) Safeguard Mechanism but are claiming large reductions from putting downward pressure on the currently too-high “baselines”.
Allowing polluters to earn ‘credits’ based on emissions intensity rather than absolute emissions lets them increase emissions with impunity, in fact, rewards them for doing so, provided the emissions per unit produced have decreased.
If businesses pollute too much, they can purchase carbon offsets thus avoiding real, substantial short term emissions reductions.
As Ketan Joshi writes in Renew Economy:
“The details shed so much light on why big business and industry are openly supportive of the plan. Being free to scribble out emissions using ultra-cheap offsets instead of real-world reductions is extremely popular among high polluters, at the moment. Corporate net zero plans are currently incredibly hollow shells that provide no downward force on emissions today, but serve as a tool for easing public pressure for companies to act on climate. Labor is leaning into this extremely troubled, loophole ridden system and doesn’t seem to be proposing any substantial reform.”
Labor doing anything radical to cut emissions in agriculture is most unlikely with the Coalition always ready to stoke the city-country divide.
Whilst Labor’s policies are preferable to the Coalition’s, they fall far short of what must be done. We cannot afford the timidity shown by the two major parties who bow to pressure from vested interests and are paralysed by fear of reprisal from their colleagues as much as from the electorate. Nor can we afford the denial from Barnaby’s mob and the Pauline and Clive cults.
When Labor form government, the necessity for action will only be greater and the voices demanding it even louder.
I hope they are ready.
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