Australia needs radical CO2 cuts to match US, EU

Mind the gap: experts show scale of cuts needed by 2025 to match pollution reduction targets of major world emitters

Satellite image of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, at risk of coral bleaching from warming seas.  (Flickr/ NASA)

Satellite image of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, at risk of coral bleaching from warming seas (Flickr/ NASA)

By Alex Pashley

The paucity of Australia’s carbon cutting plans has been laid bare in analysis by a leading consultancy.

To match intended cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by major emitters the US and EU, the country must slash levels by 24% from 2005 levels by 2025, says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ sustainability and climate change unit.

Australian plans to whittle down CO2 rates by just 5 percent from 2000 levels by 2020, leaving a wide berth between it and climate leaders.

Yet Climate Action Tracker estimates the country is on track for an increase of 12-18%, since prime minister Tony Abbott scrapped the main climate policy – a carbon tax.

Last week, the UN’s top climate change envoy urged it to ditch its fossil fuel habit amid cuts to its clean energy ambition.

Useful benchmark 

“[R]elative ambition or effort will be a critical political issue this year,” write UK-based analysts Jonathan Grant, Robert Milnes and George Gale.

The US and EU are at the front of the pack in UN-backed negotiations brokering a global climate pact to avoid catastrophic global warming set to be signed in Paris in December.

Their pledges to cut heat-trapping gases by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, and 40% on 1990 levels by 2030 respectively, PWC write, “are roughly equally ambitious, albeit still far short of what is needed for 2 degrees [rise in temperatures by 2100].”

They’re too a “useful benchmark” to spur laggards.

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The world’s second and third bloc of emitters, after China, have decarbonised their economies by about 2% a year since 2000, and must increase that by another 1.9% to meet their future targets.

PWC applied the same to Australia, as well as other major economies six weeks overdue in submitting official plans, Japan and Canada.

It’s a smaller ask for those two countries, required to slash emissions by 6% and 19% in the same period.

The consultancy compared countries’ emissions targets through historic and projected changes in carbon intensity per millions dollars of GDP.

The amount of pollution produced for the same unit of energy  is falling by around 1% a year.

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But that needs to jump to 6% to stay within the so-called “carbon budget”, the remaining emissions the atmospheric can absorb without rising above 2C on pre-industrial levels.

Faced with that scenario, a Paris deal must force countries to deepen carbon cuts at certain intervals, as well as their report progress on hitting targets.

“The current crop of targets highlights the need for the Paris agreement to include a mechanism to raise ambition in future.”

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