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Australia Turns a Corner on Carbon Cutting

12-18 18:21 Caijing Magazine

Australia's new, concrete targets for reducing emissions underscores its commitment – and global leadership.

By Senator the Hon Penny Wong

Australia Minister for Climate Change and Water

From Caijing Online


Twelve months ago – as the first official act of the newly elected government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd -- Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Now, Australia is taking another important step on the path to a low-carbon future.


The government released a policy white paper for a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) on December 15, setting out Australia’s medium- and long-term emissions reduction goals and the design of Australia’s emissions trading regime, the primary vehicle to achieve those goals.


Australia has dual vulnerability to climate change. Already a hot and dry country, Australia will be particularly affected by rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. And with a small and open resource-based economy, Australia could face significant economic impacts from any inefficient and uncoordinated efforts to reduce global emissions.


Nevertheless, Australia generates only 1.5 percent of global emissions. So it cannot solve the climate change problem alone. Australia has a clear national interest in strong global action to achieve deep emissions cuts, and efficient global policies to achieve cuts at least cost.


Having ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Australia is an active participant in international negotiations on global action to reduce emissions after 2012, when the first commitment period of the protocol expires.


A global solution must be comprehensive, efficient and fair. It must involve developed and developing countries participating in steps to slow and then reverse growth in emissions. Efficient, market-based mechanisms will be crucial, creating access to low-cost emission reductions across all sectors of the global economy. National commitments will need to be differentiated to reflect national circumstances, including relative economic and social conditions.


Australia will make a full and fair contribution to the global effort. Australia will meet its Kyoto target, limiting emissions to 8 percent above 1990 levels over the 2008-’12 period. This represents a significant break from past trends. Without policy action, Australia’s emissions would have been 24 percent above 1990 levels.


The next step is to reduce emissions in absolute terms. The white paper sets out how Australia, for the first time in its history, will reverse its emissions trajectory.


Australia will reduce emissions between 5 and 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. This is equivalent to a 4 to 14 percent reduction from 1990 levels, setting Australia on a path to achieve its long-term goal of a 60 percent reduction from 2000 levels by 2050.


Irrespective of any progress in international negotiations, the minimum 5 per cent reduction from 2000 levels is an unconditional commitment.


The maximum – a 15 percent reduction – signals Australia’s willingness to do more in the context of comprehensive global action. If all major economies – including developing countries – agree to substantially restrain emissions, and if all developed countries take on comparable emission reduction targets, then Australia will reduce its emissions by up to 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.


These are ambitious and concrete targets. The range represents a 12 to 22 percentage point reduction from Australia’s Kyoto commitment, from 108 percent of 1990 levels in 2010 to between 86 and 96 percent of 1990 levels in 2020.


Australia’s particular national circumstances – including its rapid population growth, large share of energy- and emissions-intensive industries, and heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy – mean the country faces a relatively greater structural adjustment task than many developed countries.


The level of ambition is very clear when the target range is considered in per capita terms. Australia’s projected rapid population growth over the 1990-2020 period means the range translates to a 34 to 41 percent reduction in the emissions of every Australian. This compares, for example, with a 24 to 34 percent reduction in emissions for every European implied by the EU commitment to reduce emissions by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by up to 30 percent in the context of strong commitments by other developed countries.


Australia is introducing one of the world’s most comprehensive and robust emissions trading regimes. From its commencement, CPRS will cover 75 percent of Australia’s emissions and will auction a high proportion of permits. It will create incentives to reduce emissions across the whole economy, and stimulate sustainable, low-emissions growth that forms the basis of Australia’s future prosperity.


By implementing CPRS, the Australian government will demonstrate that deep cuts in emissions are compatible with continuing economic growth and rising living standards.


In addition to domestic efforts, Australia is investing in a range of initiatives to contribute to the global solution, including considerable assistance for vulnerable countries in our region to adapt to unavoidable climate change. Australia is contributing to the global mitigation effort with a AU$ 200 million International Forest Carbon Initiative to support progress in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.


Australia is playing a leading role by investing in clean coal technology through the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Initiative announced by Prime Minister Rudd in September. The initiative, which includes a Global CCS Institute, will promote dissemination of CCS technology and know-how around the world.


Through its efforts, Australia aims to help build confidence among all major carbon emitters to take strong mitigation action. Working together, developed and developing countries can turn the global emissions trajectory around and put the world on the path to a low-carbon future.

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