In 2016, 174 nation states (including Australia) and the European Union, agreed on the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change. This global acknowledgement that humans are the primary drivers of climate change was a critical turning point in history. To avoid the most serious impacts of human-induced climate change, scientists estimated that the planet’s average temperatures could go no higher than 1.5 or 2-degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The overall aim of the Paris Agreement is to limit global emissions to net zero by 2050. The expectation is that developed countries – that are responsible for a greater share of greenhouse gas emissions – will take primary lead in the global response to climate change.
So what does it mean to achieve net zero emissions?
Human activity such as mining, oil and gas exploration, burning coal for electricity, farming, building and construction work (and even driving cars and plane travel) releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By signing the Paris Agreement, Australia agreed to a total emissions output that would be no greater than the emissions it removes (for example, carbon sequestering), hence net zero emissions.
In signing the Paris Agreement, countries committed to reducing the number of greenhouse gases they would emit; setting emissions reduction targets to manage their obligations and play their role in helping to avoid global environmental catastrophes and social issues such as mass species extinction, food insecurity and growing numbers of climate change refugees.
Tracking Australia’s progress to net zero emissions
According to a new ClimateWorks Australia report entitled “Tracking Progress to Net Zero Emissions“ Australia is not on track to reach its 2030 emissions reduction targets let alone the Paris Agreement target of net zero emissions by 2050.
However the report – which assesses Australia’s progress on reducing emissions at the halfway point from the 2005 base year to 2030 – shows that there is potential to achieve its goals through implementation of progressive clean energy and climate policies.
It also found Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to achieve the federal government’s Paris Agreement target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Furthermore, it revealed that Australia’s emissions have been steadily increasing since 2013 but if it “sustained the rate of improvement in emissions intensity it had achieved between 2005 and 2013, it could meet the government’s 2030 target.”
Unfortunately, emissions reductions progress has stalled in the major sectors – which the report identifies as electricity, industry, building, transport and land – and progress has reversed overall.
ClimateWorks Australia CEO, Anna Skarbek said overall progress was mainly due to one sector – land – achieving strong emissions reductions which masked emissions growth in other sectors. “The data shows national emissions progress since 2005 was driven by reduced land clearing and increased afforestation, some increases in energy efficiency and a slight reduction in power emissions as more renewable energy entered the market,” she said.
“However, emissions are now higher than 2005 levels in the industry, buildings and transport sectors. While there were improvements in each sector at times, none of the sectors improved consistently at a rate required to meet the government’s 2030 target or the Paris Agreement goal of net zero emissions by mid-century.”
Skarbek said that while research projections show that emissions aren’t expected to fall any further by 2030 under current and proposed government policies (including the National Energy Guarantee with its proposed electricity target of 26 per cent for the National Energy Market), improvements can be made if the federal government implemented clean energy policies.
“Going forward to 2030, there is three times the potential needed to reach the government’s current 2030 target, but projections show this will not be harnessed under current policy settings.
“However, it is still possible to build on areas of recent momentum if Australia implements further policies that guide investment in a cleaner economy. Our research shows Australia has the potential to reach 55 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and this would set our economy on the net zero emissions pathway needed for the Paris Agreement.”
ClimateWorks Australia policy manager, Anna Malos believes the next two years are critical if the country is serious about meetings its Paris Agreement targets. “The electricity, industry, buildings and land sectors each have potential using proven technologies to go further than 26 per cent below 2005 levels in 2030. The transport sector takes longer but could still reverse its projected path of rising emissions, if support exists to accelerate the uptake of lower emissions technologies.”
Since 2005 Australia’s emissions have fallen 11 per cent while the economy grew 38 per cent, but the improvement is not yet enough for our nation to be on track to reach net zero, nor the Government’s current 2030 target of 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels.” – ClimateWorks ‘Tracking Progress to Net Zero Emissions’ 2018 report
Key findings of the report
As the world begins moving towards net zero emissions (some countries quicker to act than others), here’s how Australia has progressed in the key sectors and what it should be doing if it wants to stay on track to achieve its 2030 emissions targets:
Progress to date: Electricity sector emissions fell slightly to three percent below 2005 levels but Australia could have progressed further if carbon price wasn’t repealed and RET wasn’t reduced.
2030 outlook: Increasing investment in renewable energy and the phasing out of coal means that electricity emissions are projected to fall to 21 per cent below 2005 levels under existing and proposed policies including a 26 per cent target for the National Electricity Market.
Progress to date: Transport sector emissions rose to 19 per cent above 2005 levels due to greater activity outweighing the intensity of lower emissions policies and advocacy. Energy efficiency improved but take up of electric transportation is still low, and improvements do not outweigh increased activity across all vehicles.
2030 outlook: Should Australia tighten its vehicle emissions standards and shift to electricity and low carbon fuels, there would be a reduction in transport emissions, however, Australia is lacking in progressive policy implementation and thus transport emissions are projected to rise further to 29 per cent above 2005 levels.
Progress to date: Industry sector emissions rose to eight per cent above 2005 levels as emissions improvements did not keep pace with increased economic activity.
2030 outlook: If the sector utilised energy efficiency, fuel switching and reducing non-energy emissions, there is potential to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels. However, under proposed policies, industry emissions are projected to be almost unchanged at six per cent above 2005 levels in 2030 with slight improvements driven by renewable energy.
Progress to date: Buildings sector emissions rose to six per cent above 2005 levels as per the Industry sector, improvements did not keep pace with increased economic activity and slight improvements driven only by cleaner electricity.
2030 outlook: If the government implemented its proposed energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, buildings emissions is projected to fall to 11 per cent below 2005 levels. Combined with the use of renewable electricity there is potential to reach 69 per cent below.
Progress to date: Land sector emissions fell substantially to 64 per cent below 2005 levels due to improvements in line with net zero pathway for non-energy emissions.
2030 outlook: Should policies on revegetation and afforestation be implemented, land sector emissions could reach 103 percent below 2005 levels however plantation harvesting and land clearance is expected to increase and offset any postive gains. Therefore, land sector emissions is projected to rise to 45 per cent below 2005 levels.
To access ClimateWorks “Tracking Progress to Net Zero Emissions” full report, click here.
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