Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing slower than expected, almost cutting in half the expected carbon cuts needed to make to achieve its 2020 target, the government said on Monday, but observers remain doubtful the goal can be achieved with current policies.
Australia must cut its cumulative emissions between 2013 and 2020 by 236 million tonnes of CO2e to meet its target of keeping 2020 emissions 5% below 2000 levels, according to the Department of the Environment.
The revised estimate is a 44% cut from last year’s projection of 421 million tonnes.
The ministry said emissions from energy and industry are set to be lower than previously expected through a combination of falling electricity demand, low growth in the coal sector due to falling international coal prices, and shutdowns of some energy-intensive factories.
In addition, droughts are hampering agricultural production, reducing emissions from that sector.
Australia emitted 548 million tonnes of CO2e in 2013-14, the report said, a reduction of 2% from 2000 and only 3.4% above the 2020 target of 530 million tonnes.
But it still expected non-LULUCF emissions to rise to 656 million tonnes in 2020 and 724 million in 2030, with the A$2.55 billion ($2 bln) Emissions Reduction Fund seen as the major instrument to bring those levels down.
“We will easily meet our commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions by five per cent from 2000 levels by 2020,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.
He said the former Labor government had exaggerated the task of meeting the target.
“It is now absolutely clear that we can meet or beat our targets without a destructive carbon tax,” Hunt said.
But some observers said Australia would still fall far short of its target unless additional policies are introduced.
“Without a plan to modernise and decarbonise our economy, Australia’s ballooning pollution through 2020 and beyond will require massive dollops of taxpayer funds if the primary policy tool remains the Emissions Reduction Fund,” John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, said in a statement.
“The future of the Renewable Energy Target is still uncertain and the ‘safeguard mechanisms’ haven’t been developed yet, though the government intends to make them very generous to major emitters. That leaves the Emission Reduction Fund responsible for achieving millions upon millions of tonnes of emission reductions, an implausible task.”
“Australia may well meet the 5 percent reduction target at 2020. But if it does, then on present policy settings this will be mostly by luck not design,” said Frank Jotzo, a director at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.
“Emissions levels have flatlined and just keeping them there will almost achieve the target at 2020,” he told Carbon Pulse.
He said that given recent emission commitments in the United States and Europe, and action taken by major developing nations such as China, Australia should commit to deep cuts in the 2020s.
“Australia will need to get on track to replace ageing coal-fired power stations with renewables, to greatly improve energy efficiency in industry, housing and transport, and to make more progress in agriculture and afforestation,” Jotzo said.
“The emissions reduction fund will not do the trick. It inevitably misses out on many cost-effective options to cut emissions, and because it is financed from the budget, it is inherently unpredictable and vulnerable to future budget cuts,” he added.
Peter Woolcott, Australia’s climate ambassador, said at an event at the Australian National University on Friday that Australia’s post-2020 target would be ready around mid-year, but that the INDC would most likely not include a detailed set of the policies that would accompany it.
By Stian Reklev – firstname.lastname@example.org