Saturday, January 30, 2010

Australia shows how not to stop climate change

Australia’s Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, has announced a target of a 5% cut in Australia’s carbon emissions by 2020, relative to emissions in 2000.

A January 27 statement from Wong’s office says this unconditional target will not be increased above 5% until the rest of the world’s commitments become clearer. Wong said that targets may be increased to “up to 15 per cent and 25 per cent both conditional on the extent of action by others”.

Action that Wong is expecting from the rest of the world includes “specific targets of advanced economies and the verifiable emissions reduction actions of China and India.” India’s emissions per person were 1.3 tonnes in 2006, in the most recent data from the United Nations (Millenium Development Goals Indicators). China’s were 4.6 tonnes. Australia’s 2006 emissions per person were 19 tonnes. That’s per person, per year. It doesn’t include emissions from the coal and natural gas that is exported from Australia.


Even 25% reductions by 2020 is well below the lowest amount suggested by leading climate scientists as what is necessary for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change. Germany, whose carbon emissions stood at 9.7 tonnes per person in 2006, is aiming for a (still modest) cut in emissions of 40% by 2020. This is despite the European Union not yet committing to upgrade its overall reductions target from 20% to 30%.

Even after announcing a 5% target for emissions reductions, it is unclear how Australia will achieve this. The one piece of legislation to achieve such a target is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) which so far has failed to pass parliament. Even if it passes this year (which seems unlikely at this stage), Wong has publicly refused to guarantee that the CPRS will actually reduce emissions.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said in a January 28 press release that "Minister Wong cannot guarantee that her CPRS will reduce Australia's emissions because she knows full well that, in its current form, it won't. The Government's own modelling confirms that the CPRS will pay Australia's polluters to keep polluting while hiding that fact with unlimited, and potentially dodgy, carbon offsets from overseas.”

But it appears that meaningful action on any scale is difficult for Rudd’s and Wong’s government. The January 27 Melbourne Age published an investigation of the government’s record on its energy efficiency policies for its own departments and buildings.

The article by Ruth Williams and Mathew Murphy says that “although Rudd promised ''decisive action'' on the issue, the Labor Government's efforts at improving energy efficiency in its own operations appear to have been anything but - featuring missed deadlines, a vanished ''interdepartmental committee'' and promises that have sunk without trace.” The article can only point to a handful of minor changes in government departments.

This is contrasted with the ALP’s 2007 election promise that ''A Rudd Labor Government to tackle climate change by example''.

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