Climate Change Policies “down under”

So – has Australia progressed in reducing GHG emissions to meet its 2020 targets?  And, if not, what steps will it take to do so?

Australia is the source for about 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  On a per capita basis these emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average. Only a few countries in the world rank higher in per capita emissions — Bahrain, Bolivia, Brunei, Kuwait and Qatar.

To reduce emissions the previous Labour Government proposed an emissions trading scheme and introduced a carbon tax.  In the 2013 election the Coalition Party successfully campaigned against these measures, defeating the Labour Government.  Since taking office, the Coalition Party has promised to repeal the carbon tax and dismantle the infrastructure required for effective emissions trading.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott still acknowledges that climate change is a serious problem.  His solution to GHG emissions is a policy of direct action, which includes a government-financed Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) will promote the lowest-cost carbon abatement schemes to reduce emissions and encourage “practical ways of reducing emissions where every dollar is spent on actually purchasing real means of decreasing Australia’s overall emissions”.

The Direct Action plan appears to include future regulation of industries that burn carbon.  If they are to have any effect, these regulations will negatively impact Australian coal exports, a big contributor to the Australian economy.

Abbott proposes other policies he claims will help meet Australia’s emission targets. For example, Abbot proposed planting more trees noting the loss of natural forests results in an increase of carbon in the atmosphere, .  He was challenged by scientists who concluded that a crash program of tree planting could not significantly offset Australia’s emissions at their present and anticipated levels.

Abbott also believes that energy efficiency measures will be another way of reducing Australia’s emissions. These measures will help, but the devil is in the details, which are still lacking.

There is also the reality that Australia has to make up for lost time. In 2010 in International Energy Agency conducted a review of public spending on energy efficiency measures by Australia and 17 other countries: Australia came in last.

Abbot considers solar energy as a large contributor to reducing emissions. The Labour government did provide financing for solar energy projects, but continued support of this financing is uncertain.

A group of Coalition MP’s, wish to reduce renewable energy targets.  So does Australia’s coal and gas industry who would benefit by increased profits that a greater share of the energy market would bring.

Three years ago we wrote a commentary “Climate Change Leadership Australian Style”.   In the interval this leadership has almost disappeared although the impact of climate change on Australia (droughts, heat waves, and wildfires) has not.

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