Three key measures to help Abbott avoid a carbon crunch Opinion Article

May 31, 2013 - 11:27am

This article was originally published by Renew Economy  on 31 May 2013. 

John Connor
CEO, The Climate Institute 

As Tony Abbott told Parliament on Tuesday “The question is not whether or not our climate is impacted by human activity—clearly there is a human impact on our climate. The question is: how is it best dealt with?”

This is important when we realise that both our major political parties share two key carbon and climate objectives.  The first is their support for reducing Australia’s 2000 carbon pollution levels by 5 to 25 per cent by 2020, using the same conditions for global action.

The second is the global warming objective, also agreed to by the USA, China and 190 other countries, of avoiding global warming of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The ability to reach 25 per cent reduction and to help avoid, but also prepare for, the serious climate impacts of 2 degree warming and more are central to The Climate Institute’s 2013 climate policy tests for the 2013 Federal Election.


Australia’s rollercoaster carbon politics is heading for a big crunch at the end of 2013.  The outcomes may well define our economic, diplomatic and climate future.


These benchmarks will be used to assess the positions of major and minor parties and key independents. The Climate Institute’s Pollute-o-meter, measuring the emissions reduction of climate policies of the ALP and Coalition in the last two elections, will also return.

This year represents a carbon crunch for Australia. The shape of the next Parliament and Government will be crucial to whether we have strong and effective climate policies that enable Australia to be part of the climate and low carbon solutions, not part of the problem

The next three years will see if Australia helps or hinders global climate solutions and negotiations towards the 2015 agreement which will cover all major emitters. We will also see if recent historic declines in domestic emissions from major sectors continue, if we can accelerate growing low carbon investments, and if we boost preparations for unavoidable climate impacts already hitting home.

The policy benchmarks detailed in The Climate Institute’s Managing the Unavoidable while Avoiding the Unmanageable Policy Brief include:

  1. Cut carbon pollution: Ability to cut 2000 emissions 25 per cent by 2020 and around 60 per cent by 2030 (our share of helping to avoid 2 degree warming).  Ratification of Kyoto II and investments in climate finance to further climate negotiations are also key.
  2. Accelerate low carbon investments: A carbon price or penalty that makes businesses take responsibility for their emissions and drive structural change in large emitting sectors; policy stability for renewable energy; a 30 per cent boost in energy productivity and greater corporate and investor transparency of emissions profiles.
  3. Prepare for climate impacts: Integrated assessment of the climate risks under 2 and 4 degree warming scenarios across infrastructure and Government agencies and in all appropriate national policies, standards, targets and oversight (While over 190 countries have agreed to avoid 2 degrees current commitments would deliver 4 degrees).

Australia is the developed country most exposed to climate impacts and it is in our economic and climate national interest to avoid global warming but also to prepare for the increasing climate impacts.

For the first time, The Climate Institute has included policy benchmarks that address the need to prepare for the climate momentum brought about by greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reaching levels not seen for millions of years. Lack of preparation for the climate risks from worsening extremes of heat, rainfall, bushfire and drought puts the lives and livelihoods of Australians at risk.

For business globally, and even for many Australians, Superstorm Sandy has brought into focus the fact that climate change costs, and that the cost is rising.

Australia also cannot hide from the fact that carbon markets and pricing are growing worldwide, from China to California to South Africa, and that the dropping costs of low carbon solutions raises risks for our high carbon economy.

Australia’s rollercoaster carbon politics is heading for a big crunch at the end of 2013.  The outcomes may well define our economic, diplomatic and climate future.  How our next Parliament and Government will handle the twists and turns of the next crucial few years will be driven by the outcomes of the election and the policy and political developments leading up to it and over the following 12 months.

Throughout this it is important to remember that with the shared objectives and acceptance of the science, this is nothing like Workchoices.  The perhaps ironically shared objectives require strong and effective policies to cut pollution, accelerate low carbon investments and prepare for climate impacts.

The Climate Institute will publish interim assessments of parties policies against these benchmarks from late July and publish our detailed Pollute-o-meter analysis in mid-August.

John Connor

John Connor is CEO of The Climate Institute. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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