Australia Boasts That It Has Met Its Climate Goals, But There’s Reason To Be Skeptical

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In November, just before nearly 200 nations met in Paris to hammer out an international agreement on climate change, Australia — long an outsider in global climate policy — made an impressive announcement: the country had succeeded in meeting its 2020 climate goal, a full five years ahead of schedule.

But, according to a new analysis released by the carbon market analysts at Reputex, that announcement might have been misleading — instead of achieving robust reductions in their national emissions, Australia’s emissions are actually growing, and will likely not peak before 2030, an official goal set forth by the Australian government. And despite being one of the 196 parties to sign onto the Paris agreement pledging to keep global temperatures increases well below 2 degrees Celsius, Reputex found that Australia’s projected growth rate for emissions would be one of the worst growth rates in the developed world between 2000 and 2020.

In their assessment of government emissions data, Reputex found that Australia’s emissions had increased 1.3 percent from 2014 to 2015, representing the first time in a decade that the country had seen emissions actually increase. The analysis also expects Australia’s emissions to grow 6 percent by 2020, a stark contrast to the government’s goal of reducing emissions by 5 percent over the same period. If that increase holds, Australia will be dwarfed only by Finland, Sweden, and Estonia for emissions increases in developed countries between 2000 and 2020.

The recent increase can be attributed largely to an increase in coal generation throughout the country, and an increase in the amount of land cleared for agricultural purposes. In July of 2014, Australia became the first country to repeal its carbon tax, which made it easier for the coal and petroleum industries to garner a larger share of the country’s energy portfolio.

Australia refers to its goals to reduce emissions as its abatement task — and any reductions in that abatement task are likely coming more from accounting tricks than actual reductions in emissions, according to Reputex. Australia exceeded expectations under the first period of the Kyoto Protocol, which ended in 2012. That achievement allows Australia to store credit that can be used during the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (which stretches from 2013 to 2020), meaning that it can emit more than it has pledged to reduce and use that credit to make up the difference. That effectively allows the government to announce reductions where there have been none.

“We have met our target, but we used a credit to get there,” Reputex director Hugh Grossman told ABC Australia. “There is a substantial disconnect between our national abatement task and the emissions reality.”

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott — the man who repealed the country’s carbon tax and has called climate change “absolute crap” — was replaced in September by Malcolm Turnbull, a shift that gave climate activists some hope that the country could veer away from Abbott’s fossil fuel-friendly policies.

But so far, the shift in prime ministers has done little to improve Australia’s standing on the global climate stage. Last week, Australia dropped 10 spots in Yale’s newly-updated environmental performance index, an index that ranks how a country performs in protecting human health and ecosystems. In November, Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt used the index to defend Australia’s environmental record — in the most recent index, Australia ranks below every wealthy nation besides Saudi Arabia for its trend in carbon emissions for electricity generation, according to the Guardian.

“The Yale report states that over the last decade ‘nearly every country has improved it’s [index] score’ — every country, that is, except Australia,” the Australian Labor party’s spokesman on the environment Mark Butler told Australian media. “The Turnbull government is taking Australia backwards at a shocking pace.”