Australia's Climate Change Policies Won't Do Enough

The Age - Editorial

Federal ministers are fond of trumpeting how Australia "punches above its weight", such as in our military commitment to Middle Eastern wars.
But when it comes to tackling climate change, this country's record is nothing to brag about.
Photo: Jessica Shapiro 
That's probably why the Turnbull government left it until just before Christmas to release the latest national greenhouse gas emissions figures and review of its climate policies.
This past week, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had to be pressed repeatedly to concede emissions rose in the year to last June by 0.7 per cent to 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
But the broader picture is even more concerning.
Buried near the back of the emissions report was a table revealing the nation's carbon pollution has risen in each of the past five years.
What will confuse many is that Australia will probably meet its pledge to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 even though pollution is rising.
Thank the special treatment Australia got during the Kyoto protocol period. We were permitted to increase emissions by 8 per cent during the 2008-12 period, even as other rich nations agreed to cuts.
As actual emissions fell 128 million tonnes short of that bloated goal, Australia generated a "surplus" it is now using to count towards the 2020 goal. Five nations, including Germany and Britain, cancelled similar surpluses.
A rising pollution trajectory, though, will eventually catch up with Australia. As part of the 2015 Paris climate deal, the Turnbull government pledged to slice 2005-levels emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, and the surplus will be long used up by then.
As Fairfax Media's Eryk Bagshaw highlighted last week, separate data released on the quiet late last year revealed Australia would overshoot the 2030 goal by at least 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide on current growth rates.
The sole area of significant improvement has been the electricity industry, accounting for about a third of total emissions.
The 2.2 per cent year-on-year drop, though, owes much to the abrupt closure last March of Victoria's dirtiest power plant, Hazelwood, an event met with dismay by the Turnbull government.
The government's proposed national energy guarantee – still far from a shoo-in as several states and territories are wary if not publicly opposed – would lock in just a par performance for emissions reductions from the one sector almost every other country expects to lead carbon-cutting efforts.
The review of climate policies did not offer much indication how other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, will come near any 26 to 28 per cent reduction goal.
Take residential housing, for instance. The climate review is silent despite massive potential savings for occupants who happen usually to be voters.
Phil Harrington, an energy consultant with Strategy Policy Research, notes minimum energy codes for new houses were last changed in 2009 and are weak by rich-nation standards. They are unlikely to be strengthened before 2022, locking in poor performance – and higher energy bills – for decades to come.
Dodging these issues isn't a strategy.
Later this year, Australia will be pressured, along with all the other signatories to the Paris accord, to lift its climate action to give the Earth a fair chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming.
The arc of emissions must start bending lower soon, and certainly more sharply than current policies would point it.


No comments :

Post a Comment

Lethal Heating is a citizens' initiative