Australia pledge set to confirm climate laggard status

Campaigners urge Tony Abbott’s government to target post-2020 emissions cuts in line with 2C warming limit

Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister (Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr)

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister (Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr)

By Megan Darby

As the Australian government puts the finishing touches its climate pledge, to be revealed on Tuesday, climate watchers are preparing to be disappointed.

Under Tony Abbott’s leadership, the country has scrapped its carbon tax and weakened support for renewable energy.

With consultation papers emphasising the economic importance of coal and based around a scenario involving 3-4C of warming, Australia’s contribution to a UN climate deal is not expected to reverse that trend.

The Australian newspaper reported the cabinet would present a target to cut emissions 26% from 2005 levels by 2030 to MPs in the ruling coalition for a decision.

That falls short of the 40-60% cut on 2000 levels the government’s own advisors, the Climate Change Authority, recommended. Those figures “broadly match” pledges from the EU and US, it said, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 2C.

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In a statement on Sunday, Abbott boasted that Australia was on track to cut emissions per head between 2005 and 2020 more than other developed economies.

“Australia will continue to make a strong and responsible contribution to the global effort to address climate change, but we’ll do this without sacrificing jobs or prosperity,” he said.

In a bid to forestall criticism, he argued measures to put a price on carbon would increase energy costs. His government would “never resort to harmful policies” like a carbon tax, he said.

Environmentalists, researchers and development charities were not convinced. Anticipating a weak submission, they highlighted public support for green policies and urged stronger action.

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Sydney-based think tank The Climate Institute said the proposed target would leave Australia with one of the most pollution intensive economies in the world.

An average Australian would emit 15-16 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2030, it calculated, more than the none-too-ambitious Canadians and New Zealanders.

Polling data published by the Institute on Monday showed nearly two thirds of Australians agreed the government “should take climate change more seriously”, up 6% on the previous year.

More than half (51%) of respondents said the target should be based on science, while around one in five wanted to benchmark ambition against other countries.

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Green senator Larissa Waters branded Abbott “out of touch”, talking up the economic opportunities in low carbon sectors.

“Australians understand that the coal industry is dying and today’s jobs and future jobs are in renewables, with more than 70 per cent agreeing tackling climate change creates new opportunities in renewable energy,” she said.

“It’s time for the Abbott Government to dramatically change course in line with the community’s wishes, the rest of the world’s progress and, most importantly, the science.”

With a general election due before the end of 2016, climate policy is set to be a key battleground. The Australian Labor Party has promised to aim to increase renewable energy share to 50% by 2030.

Oxfam expressed a hope the target could be ramped up before December, when negotiators meet in Paris to strike a global climate deal.

“This [target] will only be an initial offer and can and must be increased before the Paris agreement is ratified,” said Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia chief.

“Australia will have an election next year or earlier and Australians will be demanding that any future government have a more determined position on climate change.”

Szoke also called for more support to help developing countries deal with global warming impacts and green their economies.

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