Spotlight Activity: Australia Policy Recommendations
Australia’s NDC is an unconditional target of 26-28% emissions cuts by 2030 (relative to 2005 levels). The pledge states Australia must develop a comprehensive, “economy wide” emissions reduction strategy, and that it can include emissions reductions due to land use changes and reforestation. As we currently stand, Australia needs to cut ~700Mt of carbon emissions between now and 2030 to hit this target. This is no small order, especially when you consider that Australia’s total emissions have continued to rise over the last decade.
How does Australia’s current government think that a ~700Mt target could be achieved? The official government strategy looks like this:
Australia’s official Paris strategy as advertised to the public
But why does the vertical axis only go up to ~300Mt? That’s because the cornerstone of the Australian government’s strategy is to use carryover “credits” accrued from participating in the Kyoto Protocols to account for more than half of the target. That’s correct: Australia’s current government is quietly trying to meet more than half its Paris commitments with accounting, not actual emissions cuts.
Australia’s actual Paris strategy
Obviously, this has not been received well internationally. All other signatories to the Paris Agreement have ruled out the use of Kyoto credits. In fact, if the gamble fails and Australia’s strategy is ruled invalid, the Australian government will be liable for as much as $18 billion in emissions offsets – a cost that will have to be borne by Australian taxpayers. And all this is just for Australia’s initial Paris pledge, based on limiting global warming to 2 degrees. To meet an enhanced Paris target and help limit warming to 1.5 degrees, Australia will need to cut a further 3,300Mt.
The conservative government that came up with the strategy was recently re-elected for another three years, and have insisted they will not change course. Which means Australia will miss its Paris targets by a wide margin, and stands little to no hope of meeting 1.5 degree emissions targets. So, what workable policies could be enacted immediately to put Australia back on track to meet its Paris goals?
1. Introduce fuel & efficiency standards for ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles
In 2016 (under the previous conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) a government plan was hatched to set basic fuel and vehicle efficiency standards. The government estimated this would save 65Mt of emissions by 2030: nearly 10% of Australia’s Paris goal! The plan was shelved, but the opportunities for easy emissions savings remain. For example, the head of a top automotive industry body revealed last year that Australian ICE vehicles could achieve a 3-5% emissions reduction “overnight” if simple sulphur limits were placed on fuels sold in Australia.
Activity Rating: **** Moving Forward
The hard work has already been done on ICE vehicle and fuel standards around the world, and Australia stands to save a heap of emissions by implementing the most basic standards, most of which won’t require any technological interventions. All that is required is government will to pass and implement the measures.
2. Cap methane loss in unconventional gas extraction
Methane gas escaping from fracking wells is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse emissions globally. Gas companies routinely underestimate the magnitude of methane leakage from their wells: a recent study in the US estimated fugitive emissions from fracking were 60% higher than companies reported to the EPA, and in Australia researchers suggest that the industry estimate of 0.1% leakage is about 50 times too low. Companies are often reticent to curb methane emissions because of expensive fixes and maintenance costs, and the boom in fracking opportunities is leading to substandard practices in pursuit of quick profits. A government-enforced limit on methane leakages is possible, but the penalties would need to outweigh the costs of fixing and maintaining fracking wells, otherwise companies will wear the fine rather than controlling fugitive emissions.
Activity Rating: ** Standing Still
As shown in Western Australia earlier this year, any kind of government attempts to make gas companies pay for their pollution faces stiff opposition. It makes perfect sense to force companies to ensure minimal emissions of a greenhouse gas deadlier than CO2, but vested interests mean implementing a legal limit and then monitoring and enforcing breaches is an uphill battle. However, with fugitive emissions jumping to nearly 60Mt in 2018, they pose a serious obstacle to Australia achieving any meaningful emissions cuts and must be urgently addressed.
3. Use Renewable Energy to Support the Agriculture Sector
Combining wind & solar technologies with traditional agriculture is growing in popularity. In particular, sheep/solar paddock projects are proving a hit, with solar panels not causing any problems for the ground beneath in terms of sheep productivity – they even provide extra protection for lambs against predators! A number of Australian projects show that wind farms can co-exist with prime grazing land, with cattle, sheep and horses unaffected by the presence of turbines. Hosting renewable energy generation on their land has the added benefit for farmers of additional income from rent, or allows them to produce their own electricity and live off-grid.
Activity Rating: *** Right Direction
Typically, Australian farmers are conservative and difficult to persuade to try new techniques, especially when framed around saving carbon emissions. But the success of projects in Australia and globally is clear and only needs a receptive government to help support the spread of similar schemes. If the conservative parties currently in government continue to oppose renewable technologies on an ideological basis then they are denying farmers the opportunity to save on running costs and optimise their land use. Giving the farmers the tools they need to drastically slash their carbon footprint is a no-brainer, especially considering no national strategy for cutting agricultural emissions is likely to be articulated in the near future.
Please send the following message to the policymaker(s) below.
Dear Mr. Taylor,
As the newly-minted Minister for Energy & Emissions Reduction, you have a huge task on your hands to make sure Australia meets its Paris commitments. Your government plans to achieve over half of Australia’s promised emissions cuts by an accounting trick: a risky strategy that will most likely backfire and cost the Australian taxpayers billions of dollars. We urge you to see that there are a plethora of straightforward & necessary emissions cuts that could be made across a wide range of sectors, with most of them amounting to sizable chunks of Australia’s 700Mt savings target.
Changes to vehicle and fuel standards were devised by your government in 2016 and could save over 60Mt of emissions by 2030, and would require almost no technological interventions. If simple sulphur limits were placed on petrol sold in Australia every car would save 5% of its emissions instantaneously! Reducing Australia’s carbon-intensive transport sector will be key to meeting our Paris pledge, so it’s best to start with low hanging fruit.
Preventing spikes in fugitive methane emissions from unconventional gas is crucial if Australia is going to get near it’s Paris goals. While regulating the gas industry will be an uphill battle, these spikes threaten to wipe out any emissions savings made in other areas. Studies in the US show that the gas industry vastly underestimates its fugitive emissions, and needs to be held properly accountable by responsible governments.
Finally, it’s been demonstrated that renewable energy and traditional farming can co-exist, giving farmers the benefits of generating their own energy and still being able to rear livestock. Showcasing projects like Clint Nugent’s solar lambing paddock and the White Rock wind farm in Glen Innes would be a great way of getting farmers on board with slashing their own emissions and contributing to the growth of renewable energy in Australia. Farmers would be more than willing to listen to a government that supports such projects and lets them take their carbon footprint into their own hands.
Send Action Alert Message to:
Honorable Angus Taylor MP
Minister for Energy & Energy Reductions
18 Hill Street Camden
Camden NSW 2570
Telephone: +612 4658 7188