Australia announced its intended post-2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets 11 August 2015. The targets – headline: 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 – are below what the world needs to stay below 2 degrees of warming and behind most other developed countries.

Compare major countries’ targets with this useful tool thanks to Climate Action Tracker:

The Climate Change Institute has provided a useful table to compare Australia’s figures with other countries.

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Australia committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to announce these initial targets – called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – in advance of the Paris climate talks in December.

It is important for Australia as a nation and for Australians that our national targets are strong enough to contribute to the international effort required to overcome the human contribution to climate change.

Stay below 2 degrees at a minimum

Australia’s targets should at least align with the global goal of staying well below 2 degrees increase in temperature and put us on a path to zero pollution by mid-century at the latest. Targets that aim to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees are important for the environment, for future prosperity and jobs, for our good public health, for the campaign against poverty and hunger in our region, and good for our children and future generations. Targets that align with staying well below 2 degrees send a message to polluting industries that the time for change is now.

In order to achieve this we need to have targets in the range of:

  • 60-80% reduction on 2000 levels by 2030
  • 40-60% reduction on 2000 levels by 2025
  • Net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.

The Australian Government’s proposed initial post-2020 target is out of step with other countries.

The government’s decision on an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution is Australia’s initial offer. It is expected that following the Paris climate negotiations, there will be review and scrutiny of targets, creating pressure and the expectation that they get better, especially for countries which have presented low targets. There might even be a “ratchet” mechanism for increasing national targets.

Pulling our weight

Low targets mean instead of doing our bit we are asking others to do our work, or putting us on track to 3-4 degrees of warming. This will have severe impacts on us and the region, risking a future of extreme weather, unmanageable sea level rise, species loss, greater poverty and hunger.

Strong targets are needed to catch up to the action of other countries. Our key international allies and trading partners are taking significant steps at home to reduce their emissions and a global renewable energy revolution is happening right before our eyes. Without strong targets and strong domestic action the Australian government risks closing the door on new opportunities for Australians. The Australian people want the government to meet the actions of their peers and modernise our economy so that it remains strong and competitive in a low carbon future.

The Australian government also risks alienating itself diplomatically with low targets. We need to do better and start to catch countries which are modernising their economies, not allow our Government to set us up to be a polluting backwater like Canada.

Paris will look at initial targets

Australia’s targets will not be locked in by the pending August 2015 decision and announcement. These are ‘initial’ or ‘intended’ targets. All countries’ post-2020 targets that are being submitted at the UNFCCC are intended targets only, and it is expected that the new agreement agreed to in Paris will provide a mechanism to improve these targets over time. The political leadership has the opportunity to make good targets now and even better targets in the future, and these are reasonable expectations of all governments.

Strong emissions reduction targets means clean air, clean water, sustainable jobs, and a better future for them and their kids.

Strong emissions targets are achievable

Climate Works released its ‘Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050: How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world‘ in September 2014. It finds that Australia can achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and live within its recommended carbon budget, using technologies that exist today, while maintaining economic prosperity. Major technological transitions and many activities are needed in some industries, but no fundamental change to Australia’s economy is required.

The technologies required for decarbonisation are currently available or under development. WWF and ANU released a study in April 2015 that found that Australia can reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and the economic cost is low. All the work in this space has found that Australia can reach net-zero emissions without the use of international permits.

Financing climate change action

Climate finance is a very critical element of beating climate change, including to develop mitigation measures and also for adaptation, capacity building, technology transfer etc. Australia, along with other developed countries which have all built prosperity on climate-changing activities, should be contributing to support climate change adaptation and climate compatible development in poorer countries as part of their INDC response.

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) unites Australia’s non-government aid and international development organisations to strengthen their collective impact against poverty.

ACFID argues in its paper Tackling Climate Change and promoting sustainable development that Australia must take action on climate change if we are to play a fair and effective role in reducing poverty and inequality and promoting sustainable development. Strong international action on climate change is vital to the developing countries and poor communities that are being hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.

ACT Government is showing leadership

The ACT has demonstrated that Governments can and should take action on climate change and has been the leading jurisdiction in Australia with legislated targets:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2020, from a 1990 baseline
  • drawing 90% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020
  • Reaching zero net emissions by 2060.

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