Australia announces tame 2030 emissions reduction target of 26%

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday unveiled a new carbon emissions reduction target of 26% by 2030 based on 2005 levels – and was promptly criticized for setting the bar for a cleaner future far too low.

The pledge will be presented to the United Nations in December, when world leaders gather in Paris to discuss future climate change plans, but already campaigners and climate activists in Australia are calling for a more ambitious target.

Many Australian business groups had been urging the government to set a minimum 30% reduction target, and had also opposed the government’s stance on blocking the purchase of emissions permits offshore – something that many argue would help lower the cost of meeting the emissions target.

According to economic professor Warwick McKibbin, by opposing the permits the government is making it twice as expensive for Australia to meet its carbon pledge. If international permits were allowed, McKibbin has calculated, then GDP in 2030 would only be suppressed by 0.2% to 0.4%.

Abbott’s government added the caveat that 26% is a minimum target, and suggested that a target closer to 28% could be hit once the economic impact is better understood. Even so, 28% falls short of recommendations laid out by the independent Climate Change Authority, which had suggested reductions in the range of 40% to 60% on 2000 levels if Australia is to pull its weight in global efforts to keep global warming within a two degrees Celsius increase by 2050.

Campaigners called the target "pathetically low" and stated that it pales into comparison against U.S. targets (recently unveiled in the Clean Power Plan at 32% of 2005 levels by 2030) and the European Union (around 34%). Japan – which today started its first nuclear reactor since Fukushima – has promised a cut of 25% on 2005.

However, the average for developed nations is a 36% carbon emission reduction by 2030 based on 2005 levels. "The target would leave Australia the highest per capita emitter of carbon in the world by 2030," said John Connor, the chief executive of the Climate Institute. "All the research shows we can reduce our emissions by much more, even with higher population growth."

An embattled Abbott defended the Coalition government’s target, saying that it is "foursquare in the middle" of pledges made by comparable economies set to be announced in Paris in December, adding: "It’s better than Japan. It’s almost the same as New Zealand. It’s a whisker below Canada. It’s a little below Europe. It’s about the same as the U.S. It’s vastly better than Korea. Of course, it is unimaginably better than China."

However, based on a like-for-like basis of emissions per head, the figures do not stack up, with Connor stressing that if other countries took the same approach as the Australian government, "the world would warm by 3-4C."

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy called the target "defeatist", and lamented that it "shows no faith in the ability of Australians to adapt, innovate and make the transition to a clean economy."

Amid the political bluster came a telling report that revealed just where most Australians’ stand on the matter of climate change. The Climate of the Nation report by The Climate Institute (TCI) found that 84% of Australians preferred solar to be in their ideal energy mix, with wind in second place at 69% and hydro third at 47%.

"Despite a year that has seen renewable energy targets wound back, and attacks on wind power, support for both solar and wind in Australians’ preferred energy mix has grown," said TCI chief Connor.