Australian ‘business as usual’ approach poses risk of disastrous climate change

Publish date: April 9, 2015

The Australian government has recently released an issues paper entitled ‘Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions’ which considers the setting of a post-2020 emissions reduction target based on a disastrous level of warming. Moreover, the paper highlights that coal will continue to play an important role in the Australian economy. What makes this worse is the fact that the country failed to progress its Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Flagships Programme; a pre-requisite to any continued use of coal in the future and to safeguarding our climate.

The recently released issues paper is based on a post-2020 goal on a scenario entailing an average temperature rise of 3.6°C above pre-industrial levels, as opposed to 2°C: the recommended threshold for avoiding irreversible consequences of climate change. A 3.6°C increase corresponds to the International Energy Agency’s ‘new policies’ scenario, which assumes that only existing climate policies are carried out, and no additional action undertaken in the next 25 years.

Australia is committed to cutting emissions 5% from 2000 levels by 2020. This translates into an emissions reduction pace half that of the US, who has pledged to reduce its emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Yet according to Climate Action Tracker estimates, Australia is on track for an increase of 12-18%, since the Abbott government scrapped the country’s main climate policy – a carbon tax, last year.

Given Australia’s level of economic development and particular vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, the country’s lack of climate ambition has come under heavy criticism. “A world of 4°C warming would be disastrous for Australia’s economy, security and environment” warned John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute.

Furthermore, the issues paper makes clear the important role of coal for Australia’s economy. “Coal accounts for nearly 60% of our total primary energy supply, against an average in other developed countries of 20%. In 2013, iron ore and concentrates, coal and natural gas made up around 40% of Australia’s exports at a value of around $124 billion” – states the paper. The Australian government is clearly choosing short term CO2 intensive commercial priorities above the long term interests of the nation.

Australia’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels calls for urgent action to foster CCS deployment. CCS is an absolute pre-requisite for the sustained use of fossil fuels, even as just a fraction of total energy mix.

In February 2015 the Australian government made an announcement for AUS $25 million to be dedicated to the CO2CRC Otway Project, which aims to demonstrate that CCS is a technically and environmentally safe way of attaining deep cuts in CO­­2 emissions. Bellona, however, calls for intensified pressure on the Australian government to accelerate progress towards commercial CCS deployment.

With the UN Climate Summit in Paris, COP 21, getting ever closer, the lack of ambition exhibited in this paper in combination with the country’s failure to meet the deadline (31 March 2015) for submission of climate pledges by developed countries towards the post-2015 climate agreement, clearly confirm its climate action is still in free fall.