Submission on Australia’s emissions reductions target

On behalf of WATCH I sent this submission to the Climate Change Authority, which is currently considering Australia’s emissions reductions target of 5% on 2000 levels by 2020.

The CCA is of the opinion that this target needs significant strengthening, to between 15 and 25% less than 2000 emissions levels, which is an encouraging position; the new government by contrast has recently stated its refusal to countenance anything greater than the 5% cut, which it claims it can achieve with its so-called ‘Direct Action’ policy. This claim is challenged or rejected by most scientists, and anyone who has seriously studied the proposed mechanisms for achieving a real cut.

The Climate Change Authority submission was divided into three sections, of which I answered the first two:


The Authority is canvassing two options for Australia’s emissions reduction goals, which include 2020 targets of 15 per cent or 25 per cent below 2000 levels (refer Chapter 11). Please provide comments.
I welcome the opportunity to submit to the Target and Progress Review of the Climate Change Authority, and would like to make the following points both as a representative of Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health ( WATCH) and as a personal point of view.
  We welcome the proposals by the Climate Change Authority to strengthen the current target of a 5% emissions reduction on 2000 levels. It is worth remembering the circumstances under which this target was announced, only days after the conclusion of the Copenhagen talks. Australia’s refusal to announce the target at those talks was just one of the things that led to their failure – by any reasonable assessment – to achieve any of the necessary commitments to action from the other large global polluters. The Garnaut report had recommended a target range of 5-15% in the absence of global emissions commitments, or up to 25% with them, and at that time there was general support for action in the community. The adoption of a 5% reduction target was widely ridiculed, and condemned by Professor Garnaut himself despite his conservative credentials and caution. It could only be seen as a commitment constrained by energy and business interests, who clearly were able to work effectively with the then Labor government.
  Sadly this does not mean that things have improved with a change in government – they are now substantially worse as the power of the energy and mining lobbies has increased and restraints on their actions through tax and regulation are relaxed. The Abbott government’s recent statement on the maintenance of the 5% reduction target as an upper limit, regardless of global action is now what we have to work with. Against this background, making a case for a greatly increased reductions target looks hopeless, but we can hope that if such a case is strong enough then sanity may one day prevail over self interest and short term profits.
  The need to strengthen the pathetically weak target of a 5% reduction on 2000 levels is quite undeniable, unless one denies the need for emissions reduction at all, as it is a small reduction in an already excessive and increasing emissions problem. Our emissions are the highest per-capita in the world, even without allowing for our exported emissions; the two combined take our total contribution to global carbon dioxide to nearly 5%. The fact that Australia is so well blessed with renewable resources makes us a global pariah in the efforts to fight climate change, as was so well illustrated by our destructive contribution to the recent COP19 talks in Warsaw.
  When we consider what would be a fair emissions reduction target to press for it is as well to consider what was promised by the previous government, and whether this was a genuine commitment or simply the numbers game of the Howard years. These years were distinguished by the charade of using the cessation of land-clearing as emissions reductions, a rort so effective that Australia’s notional emissions hardly changed between 1990 and 2000, despite annual growth of about 2%. Thanks also to this, our emissions since 2000 have increased substantially, and continue to do so when other global market factors are allowed for. While many ways of fudging the reality were devised by the Labor government, Greg Hunt is correct to point out that Australia’s actual emissions were predicted to rise by some 20% by 2030, with the notional ‘reductions’ being made through the buying of foreign offsets, or later with the advent of mythical ‘low-emissions technology’. It’s not that the Coalition’s policies are an improvement as they merely replace the foreign offsets and burden shifting with fanciful schemes to offset emissions and bury carbon on farms. Not only can these have minimal long-term effectiveness, but the ‘reductions’ will be accounted against a base-line of average growth; companies will be alleged to have reduced their emissions when they have increased less than the expected growth, and the behaviour will be rewarded with taxpayer handouts.
  In the light of all this, it is hard to consider that any emissions reduction target less than 25% below 2000 levels by 2020 would be reasonable, if we are serious about playing our part in reducing the threat of climate change globally. It goes without saying that we should be serious, even if only out of self interest – it is painfully obvious to most people that Australia is already suffering the unpredictability and extremes that come from the global disturbance to the climate caused by carbon dioxide and methane releases. The refusal of governments and their complicit media partners to acknowledge the link between extreme weather and climate change betrays their acceptance of the link, and consequent refusal to consider instigating changes that would prejudice powerful interests and ‘affect the economy’.
  This is a stupidly short sighted viewpoint, as ‘the economy’ is already seriously and adversely affected by climate change, and we won’t have an economy at all if we don’t take immediate and drastic action to cut our emissions, and face up to the consequences of our criminal inaction of the last twenty years.
The Authority’s draft recommendation is that the Government keep access to genuine and cost effective international emissions reductions available to use in meeting Australia’s emissions reduction goals (refer Chapter 13). Please provide comments.
  As I have observed in the previous section, the use of foreign offsets, whether ‘genuine and cost effective’ or not, is in my opinion simply passing the buck, and the bucks. At the moment it is possible to buy such alleged offsets for an unrealistically low price, compared to the real cost of carbon dioxide emissions to the global environment. If such purchases are merely a cheap way of allowing business as usual in Australia, which includes the ongoing exploitation of current and new fossil fuel resources, then I am forced to agree with the current environment minister’s view of them. One need only consider the widely promoted idea of ‘stopping deforestation’, which was previously advocated by Malcolm Turnbull as a silver bullet for emissions reduction. Some unreasonable claims have been made about the ability of forests to absorb CO2, while ignoring the destruction and consequent release of CO2 from bushfires or other natural events. Besides this it is not reasonable to stop Indonesia from clearing forest so that Australia can avoid replanting some of the forest it has long cleared, simply because we can afford to do so. ( Given recent events this avenue to dispose of our carbon emissions may well be closed anyway..) If we are considering ways to sequester carbon in forests we should first consider that the only effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to leave coal in the ground – natures permanent ‘carbon capture and storage’.


The Authority has assessed Australia’s progress towards reducing and opportunities to further reduce emissions (refer Chapter 12 and Part D). Please provide comments.

( I have little knowledge of the details of Australia’s progress in emissions reductions, but doubt that there would be any; as far as I’m aware our emissions have continued to rise steadily since we first started talking about reducing them. Indeed under Kyoto, we negotiated such a ‘great deal for Australia’ that we were allowed to increase our emissions by 8% on an already inflated estimate. Getting out of this habit is not easy, given our focus on stimulating a fossil fuel driven economy. )

As a footnote, though it deserves a separate post, today saw a significant statement from Dr Peter Christoff, Associate professor of Environmental policy at Melbourne University. In this report Dr Christoff advocates an emissions reduction of at least 40% by 2020, and warns of the danger of a termperature rise of 4 degrees by 2070 if insufficient or ineffective action is taken.

This is a link to an interview with him on the ABC today:

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