Australia's post 2020 target

 

 

Response to Issues Paper “Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions.”

Introduction and Overview

 

Decisions relating to Australia’s policy to confront the climate crisis are the most important facing our country. We welcome the opportunity to make a submission.

 

This submission by Friends of the Earth Australia addresses the questions raised by the March 2015 Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Issues Paper, “Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions” in terms of addressing what could be Australia’s “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It also introduces important and relevant material connected to other issues identified in the Paper but not specifically reflected in the focused questions.

 

This submission begins with a summary of our recommendations, followed by an overview of the context (including both physical and political considerations), and then addresses the questions from the issue paper.

Summary of Recommendations

 

Recommendation 1: All public communication relating to climate change and climate policy by the Australian Government should be clear about the impact of emissions from human activities in driving changes in the climate system.

 

Recommendation 2: In setting policy targets and indicators, such as temperature goals, the Australian Government should consider impacts on a regional, and global scale, as well as a national-scale, and recognise the likely regional variations in vulnerability to projected impacts.

 

Recommendation 3: In communicating and setting climate policy the Australian Government should consider the threat of ‘tipping points’ in the climate system and the potential for irreversible and ‘run-away’ climate change.

 

Recommendation 4: Given the latest evidence on climate change impacts and the risk of crossing tipping points, the Australian Government should be guided by a commitment to limit warming to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

 

Recommendation 5: In setting mitigation targets and goals, and in identifying its contribution to global adaptation and loss and damage needs, the Australian Government should use an “emissions budget” approach to define the total amount of GHGs that can be emitted over time.

 

Recommendation 6: Given we are already experiencing climate impacts and are locked into additional impacts the Australian Government should consider transfers of finance and technology for adaptation and loss and damage as a core part of its contribution to international climate efforts.

Recommendation 7: Australia should increase its 2020 target under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC, as required by the Doha Amendment and the Durban Platform, to at least 40% below 1990 levels in 2020, without the use of offsets and specify its international climate finance contribution.

 

Recommendation 8: Given the scientific and legal context Australia’s INDC should include components of all of the ‘elements’ of the UNFCCC negotiations, including adaptation, loss and damage, finance, and technology transfer.

 

Recommendation 9: Australia’s climate policy should not be conditional on external factors but reflect its fair contribution to a global effort that will limit warming to 1.5C and protect vulnerable people.

 

Recommendation 10: Australia should express its INDC as one part of operating within a globally agreed ‘emissions budget’ to in order to have a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5C. The commitment should include point year targets to ensure compliance with that budget.

 

Recommendation 11: Australia should apply the principles of equity from the UNFCCC of historical responsibility, respective capabilities, and the right to sustainable development to determine its (and each country’s) fair-share of mitigation effort.

 

Recommendation 12: Australia’s INDC should include an indicative target of reducing emissions by 50% on 1990 levels in 2025 domestically, with a connected commitment to transfer a fair share of finance and technology annually as part of our response to our ‘loss and damage’ commitments. When combined with payments from other countries with historical liability and matched with the domestic mitigation and adaptation efforts of all countries, this will provide the pathway to achieve action globally.

 

Recommendation 13: The Government should release its estimate of the projected costs of climate impacts that would occur if every country undertook a similar level of climate action as that proposed in its INDC.

 

Recommendation 14: Policies and measures to meet Australia’s fair-share of effort should be ‘just’ and focused on supporting vulnerable groups whilst focusing the burden on those most able to pay.

 

Recommendation 15: The Australian Government should adopt direct regulation to address climate change across the Australian economy including prohibiting the development of new fossil fuel projects, ending the logging of remaining old growth forests and broad acre clearing of native vegetation, regulating the burning of fossil fuels, supporting the expansion of renewable energy, and setting increasing standards for the transport and building sector.

Context

 

Human Emissions Drive Climate Change

 

The Issues paper, in its introductory remarks is not sufficiently clear about the connection between the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by humans, global warming and a changing climate. It is imperative that policy-makers recognise that the projected rise in temperatures, increase in extreme rainfall events, and decrease in average rainfall in southern Australia will be the result of climate change that is driven by emissions from human activity.

 

Recommendation 1: All public communication relating to climate change and climate policy by the Australian Government should be clear about the impact of emissions from human activity in driving changes in the climate system.

 

 

Risks of Climate Change

 

The Issues paper also provides a limited elaboration of the risks that climate change posses to Australia.

 

The greatest risk facing Australia this century is that of run-away climate change, caused by warming crossing tipping-points, leading to natural feedbacks that exacerbate changes in the climate system. These tipping points may be crossed without much further temperature rise beyond current levels.

 

Limiting the possibility of crossing climate tipping thresholds, and thus inducing catastrophically dangerous climate change, is the “most relevant” consideration in determining what the global effort to limit climate change should be, and subsequently what Australia’s target within that effort should be.

 

The Australian Government has committed to an international goal of limiting warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. As various sources, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the CSIRO, and Australia’s Climate Change Authority indicate, 2C of warming would see:

 

  • Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress

  • Changes in water availability, and increased droughts

  • Increased coral bleaching

  • Increased extinction risk for many species

  • Changes in cereal production patterns

  • Localised negative impacts on food production

  • Increased displacement and destruction of fish stocks

  • Increased damage from floods and storms

  • Increased burden from malnutrition and disease, and spread of vector borne diseases into new regions, including in Australia

  • Increased mortality from extreme events.

 

Given these serious projected impacts, the 2C goal has been criticised by scientists, civil society, and over 100 governments, who call for a global limit of 1.5 degrees. The reasoning behind this has been partly elaborated by scholars who demonstrate how notions of acceptability always mirror “a prism of privilege, power, and geography” and that for those who “a 2°C target appears to be a relatively safe bet are the richer countries in temperate latitudes, as well as politicians and economists from the global North deeply entrenched in a masculinised rationality that nature can be controlled and that in the imminent climate race with inevitable winners and losers they will be among the former.”1

 

Furthermore, as the CSIRO has recently documented:

 

[S]ome scientists (prominently Hansen et al. 2008 and elsewhere) have argued that 2 degrees is too high, and that avoiding "dangerous" climate change requires a lower target of 1.5 or 1 degree. Two foundations for this position (among others) are (a) there is a risk of crossing thresholds or tipping points in the climate system, which are hard to predict but would cause rapid global climate change if they were to occur (Kriegler et al. 2009; ACERE-NSF 2009); and (b) a high equilibrium sensitivity of sea level to natural climate change (around 15-20 metres per degree of warming) can be inferred from records of glacial cycles through the last million years (e.g. Hansen et al. 2008). There is increasing concern that sea levels can respond to warming in sudden jumps as land ice sheets are destabilised (e.g. Rignot et al. 2008a; Rignot et al. 2008b; Hansen et al. 2008).2

 

Given this, Australia should adopt a global temperature target of limiting warming well below 1.5C and in order to support global efforts, should adopt its fair-share of a global emissions budget of no more than 700 gigatonnes of CO2 from 2010-2100.3

 

An ‘emissions budget’ approach is proposed here as climate change is triggered by the total cumulative levels of GHGs in the atmosphere, not by flows at a particular moment in time. Given this scientific reality, a common sense approach that the Government should adopt is to determine a globally equitable emissions-budget for Australia for the entire period out to 2050, rather than point targets at particular years. An emissions budget approach is useful as a symbolic tool because it directly links the projected rise in temperature to the aggregated emissions allowable if we are to meet the climate challenge. 4

 

Moreover, as the evidence relating to climate risks outlined above shows, even at ‘low’ levels of warming there are serious impacts on many people, communities and ecosystems across the world. Given these impacts the preparation for such impacts (‘adaptation’) and the compensation for their harms (‘loss and damage’) must also form a part of holistic policy approach to climate change, and Australia’s contribution to global efforts.

 

Recommendation 2: In setting policy targets and indicators, such as temperature goals, the Australian Government should consider impacts on a regional, and global scale, as well as a national-scale, and recognise the likely regional variations in vulnerability to projected impacts.

 

Recommendation 3: In setting and communicating climate policy to the community and business, the Australian Government should consider the threat of ‘tipping points’ in the climate system and the potential for irreversible and ‘run-away’ climate change.

 

Recommendation 4: Given the latest evidence on climate change impacts and the risk of crossing tipping points, the Australian Government should be guided by a commitment to limit warming to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

 

Recommendation 5: In setting mitigation targets and goals, and in identifying contributions to global adaptation and loss and damage needs, the Australian Government should use an “emissions budget” approach to define the total amount of GHGs that can be emitted by Australia over time.

 

Recommendation 6: Given we are already experiencing climate impacts and are locked into additional impacts the Australian Government should consider transfers of finance and technology for adaptation and loss and damage as a core part of its contribution to international climate efforts.

 

Legal and Political Context

 

Australia should be guided by its international obligations and internationally agreed principles in determining its fair contribution to addressing climate change. These principles are outlined in Article 3 of the UNFCCC, with the first and most relevant being “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” This principle indicates that due to Australia’s historical overuse of the climate system, our responsibility should be differentiated from those who have not (and hopefully will not) overuse the system. Our responsibility should also be differentiated due to our respective capability, which, given our per-capita income and standing in the human development index, as well as our levels of technological and productive capacity suggests we should be doing close to the most of any country in the world. Australia should be leading in action on emissions reductions and contribute to loss and damage payments.

 

Arguments about Australia being a relatively small GHG emitter on a gross level become meaningless when historical responsibility is considered. As a major per capita emitter with a large historical carbon (or ‘climate’) debt, the onus is on Australia to take meaningful action based on the best available science. The current intention to ‘wait and see’ what other countries commit to is ill considered and ignorant of the reality of carbon debt.

 

The UNFCCC also lays out clear obligations for Parties such as Australia relating to non-mitigation related commitments. Article 4.1 requires the reflection of CBDR, indicating the necessity for transfer to enable Non-Annex I Parties to undertake such actions, and this is followed by the obligation for adaptation support to developing countries by Annex II nations (which includes Australia) as set out in Articles 4.4, as well as Articles 4.3 and 4.5, which relate to finance and technology, respectively, and should be reflected in accordance with realizable temperature scenarios.

 

Similarly Articles 4.3, 4.4, 4.7 provide important legal context for the Australian Government as they require agreed full incremental costs to be provided by Annex II Parties for developing country actions under Article 4.1, full costs for reporting, and costs for adaptation, and a recognition that the extent to which developing countries can fulfil their commitments depends on effective provision of finance and technology support as per Article 4.7.

 

Furthermore, the mandate and decisions relating to the Durban Platform negotiations are clear that they are to cover: “mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support, and capacity-building.”5 Recently the draft negotiation text itself includes these heading as well as ‘loss and damage’. Therefore it is incumbent on the Australian Government to make a proposed ‘contribution’ to this agreement that covers all of these elements.

 

A further legal consideration for the Government is the expectation that both under the Durban Platform in paras 6-8, and in the decision adopting the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, that the level of mitigation will increase, and that specifically Australia (in 2014) was to increase its 2020 target in line with what science and equity require.6 A successful outcome in Paris will require an outcome on this issue and Australia could take the lead in announcing the review and ‘ratcheting’ of its target, to better align with recommendations from the scientific community.

 

The previous Government conditioned the mitigation targets it submitted to the UNFCCC. As a matter of fairness, and in compliance with its international obligations, Australia is required to take on a stringent domestic mitigation target. As a matter of economic planning, forestalling a transition to renewable energy until our economic partners and competitors also commit to large-scale investment in renewable energy technology would relegate Australia to being followers in the economy of the future. The current uncertainty around the Renewable Energy Target (RET), and associated loss of jobs and investment is indicative of the type of negative impacts that can be expected if Australia continues to look backwards and ignore science. The policy of conditioning our target on external factors should be abandoned.

 

Recommendation 7: Australia should increase its 2020 target under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC, as required by the Doha Amendment and the Durban Platform, to at least 40% below 1990 levels in 2020, without the use of offsets and specify its international climate finance contribution.

 

Recommendation 8: Given the scientific and legal context Australia’s INDC should include components of all of the ‘elements’ of the UNFCCC negotiations, including particularly adaptation, loss and damage, finance, and technology transfer.

 

Recommendation 9: Australia’s climate policy should not be conditional on external factors but reflect its fair contribution to a global effort that will limit warming to 1.5C and protect vulnerable people, communities and natural systems around the planet.

 

Responses to Issues Paper Questions

What should Australia’s post-2020 target be and how should it be expressed?

 

In preparing its INDC, the Government should recall Article 4 (2) (a) of the UNFCCC, which required Australia to return its emissions to 1990 levels by 2000, as an indication of its compliance with its responsibility to take the lead in combating climate change (due to its large historical responsibility and respectively superior capability to take action). Australia (like many other developed countries) has failed to comply with this provision, or to undertake to living within a “fair share” of the remaining carbon budget. Until we take on emissions cuts commensurate with Australia’s historical responsibility, the government is likely to undermine ambition in developing countries, including the largest economies in the global South.

 

Australia’s contribution should also be expressed in a way that clarifies how it relates to the concept of a global emissions budget. In its contribution the Government must clearly state:

 

  • What is the temperature goal for the global effort?

  • Which emissions budget has been selected to give a probability of limiting warming to that level?

  • Which equity principles are to be used to determine each country’s share of the budget?

  • How does Australia’s proposal align with that share?

 

It should also be noted that, given the scarcity of the remaining budget and Australia’s historical consumption and unique capability, Australia’s “share” of the global budget to 2050 may well be technically negative. In order to meet such a share, Australia would need to scale up its contribution of international finance and technology to allow developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to impacts – to cover the reductions of emissions outside of Australia’s borders. This would not be “offsetting” Australia’s emissions as is currently understood, but would represent a repayment of Australia’s “climate-debt” accrued by its historic overuse of the global commons.

 

The Stockholm Environment Institute has prepared calculations relating to various emissions budgets and metrics for each country that reflect historical responsibility, level of capacity, and access to sustainable development. Friends of the Earth England (FoE EWNI) and Jubilee South have built an online tool to give an indication of the scale of the effort needed by each country.7 These calculations should serve as guidance as to the scale of the effort required.

 

A note on the figures required as a contribution to international finance and technology.

Although the transfers necessary to fulfill global fair-shares of climate effort will involve finance, technology and capacity building, we have converted these transfers into United States Dollars (USD) to allow for easier comparison.

The numbers generated for each country, as either a provider or receiver of international finance, is determined by converting the non-domestic mitigation effort (either that done internationally by the rich industrialized countries, or that done domestically with provision of resources in countries in the South) into USD. This conversion uses the $65 per tonne of CO2e mitigation figure from the Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC Working Group 3, Fifth Assessment Report.

The provision of finance to fulfill an international obligation to meet a fairshare is NOT offsetting – it is in addition to deep domestic emission cuts, and it is in accordance with existing obligations to provide finance and technology under the UN climate convention. It is not expected that the delivery of these resources would be by ‘market mechanisms’ but by grants and policy regulation.

In the case of Australia, the recommended payments are:

USD28.11 billion by 2025 on an annual basis, rising to USD 39.46 billion/ year by 2030.

 

To compare this figure with similar economies, the suggested amounts for Canada are USD 35.25 (2025) and USD 46.16 (2030); New Zealand USD 2.08 (2025) and USD 2.81 (2030) and the United Kingdom USD 49.81 (2025) and USD 64.54 (2030).

 

In answer to the questions above they assume:

 

  • A temperature goal of 1.5C

  • A remaining emissions budget (from 2010) of 700 gigatonnes of CO2 to give a 49% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C

  • An index applying historical responsibility, per capita income, and applying progressive indexation techniques such as income floors and increased responsibility for nations with greater wealth.

 

This produces the following ‘fair share’ of effort for Australia:

 

  • Reduce emissions on 1990 levels by 50% by 2025 entirely by taking action at the domestic level.

  • By 2025 to be making significant contributions to paying for ‘loss and damage’ on nations in the global South through transferring an annual contribution of finance and technology as ‘climate debt’ to support a global transformation.

 

Given the analysis above, it is this scale of action domestically and internationally which is necessary to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. If Australia is to do less than this scale of effort it would be requiring those with less historical responsibility, capacity, or levels of human development to pick up the burden. This is fundamentally unjust, and also potentially unfeasible, which could then result in the crossing of tipping points and run-away climate change, as well as undermining the chance of achieving global consensus on the need for all nations to take action on climate change.

 

Given the internationally accepted norm for the base year is 1990, the proposed budget for Australia determined by these calculations uses that year. A 1990 base year allows for much greater comparability between all countries. Similarly, a 2025 end year is used as changes in climate science may require revision, and so short commitment periods provide for a greater capacity to be responsive to these changes. It would be expected that the submission to the UNFCCC does not include merely a ‘point year’ target of 2025 but also expresses the overall budget to show a steady reduction in emissions to reach the 2025 target (as occurred in the conversion of Kyoto targets to QELROs). It should be clear that Australia’s contribution does not expect access to market mechanisms to achieve targets.

 

Recommendation 10: Australia should express its INDC as one part of operating within a globally agreed ‘emissions budget’ to in order to have a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5C. The commitment should include point year targets to ensure compliance with that budget.

 

Recommendation 11: Australia should apply the principles of equity from the UNFCCC of historical responsibility, respective capabilities, and the right to sustainable development to determine its (and each country’s) fair-share of mitigation effort.

 

Recommendation 12: Australia’s INDC should include an indicative target of reducing emissions by 50% on 1990 levels in 2025 domestically, with a connected commitment to transfer a fair share of finance and technology annually as part of our response to our ‘loss and damage’ commitments. When combined with payments from other countries with historical liability and matched with the domestic mitigation and adaptation efforts of all countries, this will provide the pathway to achieve action globally.

What would the impact of that target be on Australia?

 

Adopting such a target would spark a transformation in Australian society and economy. We would need to end a range of polluting and harmful industries, particularly the extraction and mining of fossil fuels, and re-orientate our energy system around renewable energy sources. We must undertake this transition by focusing on supporting those must vulnerable to change (such as workers in the fossil fuel industries) and not further waste public money on subsidies to corporations and rent-seekers or research and development support for the fossil fuel sector. This would also catalyse a reinvigoration of local food economies and provide opportunity to give new and meaningful work to another generation of Australians.

 

To raise the levels of financial transfers necessary to meet Australia’s fair-share of effort would require a re-orientating of our tax system to ensure a larger burden was carried by the most wealthy. It would similarly require a reconfiguration of our intellectual property control system, to allow for compulsory and share licensing regimes. These reforms would contribute to greater equality and prosperity for most Australians at home, whilst also providing the foundation for an international effort to confront the climate crisis globally.

 

It is also important to recognise what the impact of failing to take on a target of this scale would imply for Australian society. A failure to undertake this magnitude of efforts is likely to: increase the ocean acidification trend, resulting in poisoning of the Great Barrier Reef; changed weather patterns, heightening the risk of both droughts and storms severely affecting agricultural production; and raise sea-levels to risk the 85% of Australians who live in coastal areas. It is difficult to see contributions of less than this magnitude being “defensible” to the global community or future generations.

 

Recommendation 13: The Government should release the projected environmental, social and economic costs of climate impacts that would occur if every country undertook a similar level of climate action as that proposed in its INDC.

 

Recommendation 14: Policies and measures to meet Australia’s fair-share of effort should be ‘just’ and focused on supporting vulnerable groups, especially in our region, whilst focusing the burden on those most able to pay.

 

Which further policies complementary to the Australian Government’s direct action approach should be considered to achieve Australia’s post-2020 target and why?

 

Friends of the Earth Australia believes that the response to the climate crisis does not lie in ‘trading’ schemes, but instead in direct government action and regulation.

 

We would recommend a cross-cutting and broad-based approach to regulation and policy measures that will help shift the economy onto a sustainable footing, whilst focusing on ensuring greater fairness within our society.

 

Some of these policies could be:8

  • Supporting the roll out of 100% renewable energy, especially state-funded or community owned, community run renewable energy projects, including through feed-in-tariff schemes.

  • Transitions toward zero carbon emissions in stationary energy, building, land use, and transport. The investment and employment yield associated with this transition would be enormous.

  • Hypothecated carbon income and corporate taxes could be imposed to fund renewables, to finance just transitions in coal-dependent communities, and to meet international obligations. These taxes would have a progressive eect on income distribution.

  • Stop using taxpayers' money to provide handouts to big coal and gas corporations and make the miners pay their fair share in taxes.

  • Reject current development proposals for coal ports, mega-mines, and all unconventional gas wells.

  • Put in place a national moratorium on coal seam gas and other unconventional gas mining operations.

  • Ensure a staged, full phase out of the Australian coal export industry through regulation and appropriate funding for meaningful transition plans for affected communities.

  • Create no-go zones to protect productive agricultural land, national tourism icons, and all residential dwellings from fossil fuel extraction, particularly, coal and gas mining.

  • Strengthen the Federal environment laws to exclude coal and gas mining from important water sources, cultural heritage sites and sensitive environment areas.

  • Put in place national emissions standards on coal and gas pollution and enforce compliance.

  • Redirect public finance away from major road projects and into public transport.

  • Apply ‘best in fleet’ emission technology standards that tighten every year for new car sales.

  • Cease the logging of old-growth forests, which provide essential carbon sinks.

  • Introduce building standards to minimize energy use and encourage sequestration of carbon, and a national retrofitting scheme with annual targets for conversion of existing public and private building stock.

 

Recommendation 15: The Australian Government should adopt direct regulation to address climate change across the Australian economy including prohibiting the development of new fossil fuel projects, ending the logging of remaining old growth forests and broad acre clearing of native vegetation, regulating the burning of fossil fuels, supporting the expansion of renewable energy, and setting increasing standards for the transport and building sector.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Paris meeting is widely seen as being the ‘make or break’ climate negotiations because of the need to agree on the framework which will replace the existing agreement and the slow pace of progress in negotiations in recent years.

 

Australia, with a high per capita emissions profile, large historical carbon debt, and strong economy, must lead the way in making binding commitments that are based on the best available science.

 

The INDC is our chance to re-position our country away from the laggard role we have adopted in negotiations in recent years. To make a visionary commitment could be a nexus breaker in the negotiations, increase pressure on other developed nations to show true leadership, and provide the basis for the required restructure of our economy to the realities of climate change.

1 Petra Tschakert, 1.5°C or 2°C: a conduit’s view from the science-policy interface at COP20 in Lima, Peru, Climate Change Responses 2015, 2:3 

 

 

2 Raupach, M. R., Harman, I. N., and Canadell, J. G., "Global Climate Goals for Temperature, Concentrations, Emissions and Cumulative Emissions " in CAWCR Technical Report No. 042, September (Australia: CSIRO, 2011), 9.

3 See, SEI, Discussion Paper: Three Salient Global Emission Pathways In Light of the IPCC Carbon Budgets” (2014).

4 Climate Commission, "The Critical Decade: Climate Science, Risks and Responses," (Canberra: Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, 2011), 53.

5 Decision 1/CP17, para 5.

6 Decision 1/CMP8, Paragraphs 7 to 11.

 

8 Green, F. and Finighan, R., "Laggard to Leader: How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon  Prosperity," (Melbourne: Beyond Zero Emissions, 2012); Wright, M. and Hearps, P., "Australian Sustainable Energy: Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan," (Melbourne: The University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute and Beyond Zero Emissions, 2010); Goodman, J. and Rosewarne, S., "Climate policy: From carbon tax to direct action?," Chain Reaction November(2010); Lock the Gate Alliance, "Call to Country," http://www.lockthegate.org.au/calltocountry.