Australia’s inadequate climate pledge: hopes for increased ambition rest on an international agreement in Paris
Tamara Inkster-Draper, Project Manager, Policy
11 August 2015
Australia’s poor reputation on climate change mitigation action has been growing steadily worse in recent years. The release of its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) today is likely to reinforce that perspective. By 2030, Australia intends to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels. This commitment has been labelled ‘inadequate’ to achieve the globally agreed two degree warming limit, despite the Prime Minister recently exclaiming that when released Australia’s INDC would be ‘strong and credible’.
Australia has kept the commitments it made under the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), the previous global framework for emissions reductions, and did limit the increase in its annual emissions. However, the period of the commitments that fall during the current government’s term of office appear to have been pursued with the minimum amount of action necessary and no more. This is despite other developed countries in the world, including the EU, US, and China, increasing their climate change mitigation ambition, as evident in their own INDCs.
As of today, 52 other countries have formally submitted their INDCs to the UNFCCC, with Australia becoming the 53rd. Despite its lack of ambition in comparison to the EU and US (40 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030, and 26–28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2025, respectively), Australia’s INDC does go further than nearby neighbours Japan (26 per cent reduction on 2013 emission levels by 2030, equivalent to 18 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030) and is in the range of New Zealand’s target (11 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2030). Although, the New Zealand target was criticised as being not ambitious enough, particular by nearby Pacific Island nations who termed the commitment as ‘a slap in the face’.
So, despite claiming that its INDC would prove otherwise, the Australian government has yet again failed to step up to the world stage and deliver a strong commitment to climate change mitigation. Yet, the growing number of voices in Australia making the case for increased action offers some hope. The Australian people themselves are beginning to push for increased ambition with the recent Climate of the Nation 2015 report concluding that a large majority of Australians want stronger action. The opposition government have proposed a strong climate change action package, including a renewables target of 50 per cent by 2030 which would bring Australia in line with other developed countries. And, the Australian Climate Change Authority’s Final Report on Australia’s Future Emissions Reduction Targets (released in July) recommends Australia strive for a target of 30 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2025 with further reductions of 40–60 per cent by 2030.
Perhaps most strikingly is the increasingly louder call for stronger action from the Australian business community. This is most evident in the ‘unprecedented’ alliance of business, investors, NGOs, and civil society organisations forming the Australian Climate Roundtable. This group includes such prominent, and historically often conflicting, actors as The Climate Institute, the Business Council of Australia, and WWF Australia. These organisations have come together because, despite their differences, they all share a belief that climate change and strong climate policy are impactful and important.
With less than 100 days until negotiations begin in Paris, there is still much work to be done before countries will reach a new global climate change agreement. However, as in Australia, collective voices from across the globe, and importantly many from outside government, are combining and strengthening the call for such an agreement. There is hope amongst the international community that a deal will be struck.
A strong agreement should mandate frequent review of countries’ INDCs and include some measures against ‘backsliding’. For Australia this would mean considering today’s INDC release of a 26 per cent emissions reduction target as a baseline for ambition, creating the necessary space for the future increases in emissions reductions necessary for ensuring Australia contributes its fair share to tackling climate change. This will, in turn, ensure Australia’s economy remains prosperous in an increasingly low carbon world, whilst safeguarding a liveable country and world for future generations.