The IPCC and Australia's Emissions Targets Media Brief

Apr 11, 2014 - 10:00am

On Sunday night Australian time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its latest report on the technical potential and economics of reducing carbon pollution. This report follows the release of the IPCC report on the physical science of climate change and subsequent report on climate change impacts and vulnerability.

A key element of the IPCC report coming out this weekend will be an assessment of the emission reductions required to avoid a  2°C increase in global temperature above preindustrial levels. Avoiding this increase in global temperature is a focus of the report and the current goal of over 190 governments, including Australia. It is also key benchmark that will be used to assess whether proposed national targets are adequate.

In its last carbon reduction or mitigation report in 2007, the IPCC indicated that countries like Australia would need to reduce emissions by 25-40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-95 percent by 2050 to give a 50/50 chance of avoiding a 2°C increase in global temperature. This target range became a benchmark by which national targets were discussed. For example, many nations (including Australia, the USA, the EU, Norway and Japan) indicated willingness to reduce emissions on this scale in advance of the Copenhagen climate summit.

The new report from the IPCC will likely have a similar impact. It is likely to indicate that global emissions need to fall significantly by 2030. Leaked draft versions indicate that countries like Australia will need to reduce emissions by 50 per cent on 2010 levels by 2030 to be consistent with the goal of avoiding 2°C. Over this same period, major emerging economies like China would need to see emissions peak and begin to fall.

Other important elements of the new IPCC report are likely to be:

  • Keeping warming below 2°C is possible, but action is required across all major countries and major emitting sectors. Turning our coal, oil and gas based energy system to one based on clean energy sources like wind and solar, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, industries and transport sector, stopping deforestation and developing carbon removal technologies are all essential ingredients to effective action.
  • Climate policy decisions can provide broader benefits, such as reductions in air pollution and improvements in energy security. There are some costs to achieving climate goals, but these are manageable (global GDP growth continues but is a few percentage points lower in 2030) if effective action is not delayed.
  • Effective national climate policy should include economy-wide carbon pricing, using regulations to overcome barriers to action, and creating long-term investment signals through policies like Australia’s Renewable Energy Target. They will also likely note that removing subsides to fossil fuels would stimulate both major emission reductions and economic benefits.

Implications for Australia’s emission reduction ambitions

“We think it should be possible for Parties to come up with draft [post-2020 emission] commitments by early 2015, in time for a consultative process to take place during 2015.”

- U.S. Government Submission on the 2015 Agreement

Most recent discussion of Australia’s emission reduction goals has focused on our bipartisan-supported commitment to reduce emissions by 5-25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. Most recently, the independent Climate Change Authority (CCA) recommended that Australia target 19 per cent reductions on 2000 levels by 2020. Appreciating that emission reductions will be required after 2020, the CCA has also recommended that Australia reduce emissions by 40-60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2030 and national carbon limit (or budget) to 2050.

This year, the international process is focused on not only increasing countries’ 2020 targets but also setting new targets beyond 2020 (see Figure 1 in PDF). Critically, Australia and other major emitters have agreed to provide their possible post-2020 emission targets by April 2015. These targets are to be examined internationally before the new Paris climate agreement is finalised in December 2015. As a result, many countries have started work on developing new post-2020 emission reduction goals (for example Table 1 in PDF).

A key criterion in this evaluation will be whether each country’s target is consistent with a fair contribution to avoiding warming of 2°C. The IPCC’s conclusions in this regard will shape this global conversation.

It is important to note that how the percentage reductions are expressed is strongly influenced by the base year used (eg, 2010 levels in the above), the global carbon budget used, the probability of avoiding 2°C, and the method used to define national contributions to this global goal. For example, Australia’s national goals are set based on 2000 levels not 2010 levels.

Regardless of how this is approached, for Australia to play our fair part in global emission reductions after 2020, emission reductions will have to be much stronger than Australia’s current target range of 5-25 percent emission reductions by 2020. A domestic policy framework that can’t achieve this scale of emission reduction by 2030 is neither sustainable nor economically prudent.

Australia silent on targets to avoid dangerous climate change

The Foreign Minister, who is responsible for these targets, has not yet outlined what domestic preparations Australia is making to develop its post-2020 target or whether we will join other major emitters in advancing our initial target offer by the first quarter of 2015.  With the Clean Energy Act still in legal force the Government is required to set out caps to 2020 by end of May 2014 (s.16).

To date the ALP has deferred making a decision on its 2020 targets on at least three occasions. They have continually sought independent expert advice as a way of avoiding political confrontation on the issue. All the authors of the independent advice the ALP has commissioned have recommended at least a 15 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 and greater long-term reductions tied to avoiding a 2°C increase in global temperature.   

For a table and timeline of national post-2020 emissions goals download the media brief below.

For more information    
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299
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