Australia’s climate plans probed by UN partners

World’s biggest emitters call out inadequate pollution-cutting targets in questions submitted through the UN

Australia's outback (Pic: Flickr/Chris Ford)

Australia’s outback (Pic: Flickr/Chris Ford)

By Alex Pashley

Australia has come under scrutiny for unambitious plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

China, the US, Brazil and the EU have probed the country’s resolve to cut CO2 by 5% from 2000 levels by 2020 through its UN forum.

That is just half the pace of US proposals, as almost 200 nations prepare to roll out pledges in the coming months towards a new global climate deal.

And Climate Action Tracker estimates the country is on track for a rise of 12-18%, not even meeting its goal. Since prime minister Tony Abbott scrapped its main environment policy, a carbon tax, analysts say Australia will struggle to curb emissions.

“Our major trading partners do not think that we have a credible policy or pathway for achieving any significant pollution target, or that we’re playing our fair share in the global game,” said John Connor of Australian think-tank the Climate Institute.

Countries asked Australia 36 questions through the UN’s “multilateral assessment” portal, which scrutinises if overall emissions pledges are on course to hold global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

The US received 33 questions, followed by Japan on 32 and Russia with 27.

News: Australia lags behind US on emissions cuts 

China questioned Australia’s decision to make 2000 its baseline year, rather than the international “common choice” of 1990, and asked for clarity on conditional 15% and 25% targets. The EU asked if its main policy tool, the Emissions Reduction Fund, had the power to hit those conditional targets.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne says international pressure is mounting on the Abbott government ahead of UN climate talks in Paris, and warned the country may stand “alone and humiliated”.

“It’s no surprise that the rest of the world is appalled by the Abbott government’s refusal to adopt meaningful global warming policy,” said Senator Milne.

The world’s tenth top emitter has said it may cut levels of heat-trapping gases by as much as 25 percent, though this will be determined by other countries’ actions. Critics say this is vague and locks in low ambition to secure a lasting global pact, to be finalised in December.

The Climate Change Authority, an independent reviewer, has said Australia needs to reduce emissions to between 40-60% of 2000 levels by 2030 to take on “fair share” of global emissions reduction efforts.

News: Australia risks climate credibility with coal-friendly target 

Last month the Australian government published an “issues paper” for its post-2020 goal that entails a temperature rise of 3.6C above pre-industrial levels. That’s higher than the 2C goal agreed by governments, beyond which scientists warn of increasingly calamitous impacts for the planet as sea levels rise and ice-caps melt.

The paper highlighted the importance of coal for the economy, which accounts for nearly 60% of total energy supply. Exports of iron ore, coal and natural gas totalled AU$124 billion in 2013.

After scrapping the carbon tax, prime minister Tony Abbott sought to cut funding for the main remaining climate policy tool the Emissions Reduction Fund by 40%, according to the Climate Institute.

“Other countries appear to be as mystified as domestic analysts about the scale and effectiveness of this policy and asking ‘what else have you got’? Connor added.

Australia has two months to answer the questions, while the UN’s climate change body will release a review in August.

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