Australia Offers ‘Vastly Inadequate’ Emissions Reduction Pledge, Critics Say

Coal mining is a big industry in Australia — and coal is a leading source of carbon emissions. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROB GRIFFITH
Coal mining is a big industry in Australia — and coal is a leading source of carbon emissions. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROB GRIFFITH

Politicians and environmentalists in Australia are criticizing the country’s new carbon reduction pledge, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect Australia from the impacts of climate change.

In the pledge, announced Tuesday in advance of December’s United Nations climate change summit in Paris, the country says by 2030 it will reduce emissions between 26 and 28 percent compared to 2005 levels — significantly less than other developed nations. The United States, for instance, pledged cuts between 26 and 28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union, which has submitted one of the most aggressive reduction pledges to the UN, has promised to cut emissions at least 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030. And Switzerland has committed to a 50 percent reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

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Tim Flannery of Australia’s Climate Council, an independent group that publishes research on how climate change impacts the country, said Tuesday’s announcement falls short.

“These targets are vastly inadequate to protect Australians from the impacts of climate change and do not represent a fair contribution to the world effort to bring climate change under control,” he said.

Opposition leaders in Australia were also quick to criticize the pledge.

“Countries to which we often compare ourselves — like the U.S. and the United Kingdom, Germany, countries like that — all have targets in an equivalent time frame into the 40 per cent range, so 41 percent for America, 48 percent for the U.K., mid-40s for Germany,” Australian Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler told the ABC.

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The announcement was also criticized because the pledge is in terms of a 2005 benchmark, when much of the world — aside from the U.S. and Canada — is using 2000 levels. In Australia, greenhouse gas emissions were about 9 percent higher in 2005 than they were in 2000.

According to the Guardian, Australia’s Climate Change Authority has recommended that the country’s “fair share” of carbon reductions would be 40 to 60 percent over 2000 levels by 2030, which would be equal to a 45 percent to 63 percent reduction over 2005.

In the run up to the UN summit, many of the world’s countries are preparing emissions reduction pledges — known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Reducing carbon emissions is seen as the best way to keep global warming below 2°C, a level generally agreed-upon to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. INDCs are expected to play one part in the overall climate reduction strategy, but many developing nations will likely need assistance transitioning to clean technologies, such as wind and solar.

“So far, based on INDCs that have come out and what we expect we know we’re going to get about halfway to 2 degrees under the best-case scenario,” Rebecca Lefton, Director of Policy and Research at Climate Advisers, told ThinkProgress in the spring. “Which is not surprising, because this is just what countries can do unilaterally with self-financed pollution targets.”

Last year, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia became the first country in the world to abolish an existing carbon tax. Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita. It also has a significant coal industry, which Abbott has called “good for humanity.”

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Abbott — who in 2009 reportedly called the science behind climate change “crap” but has since claimed he takes the issue “very seriously” — told the ABC that the pledges were “responsible.”

“We are not leading, but we are certainly not lagging,” he said. “It’s environmentally responsible because it’s more than comparable with what other countries are doing. It’s economically responsible because it doesn’t depend upon a great big new tax on everything, or a massive overbuild of renewable capacity in the next few years.”