Coal is king in Australia.

Coal is king in Australia.

CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Australia’s emissions target panned at home and abroad

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s new carbon emissions reduction target is “out of step with the global community,” the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a release today. The target, for 2030, is “pathetic” and places the country among the “don’t cares” of the international community, Lord Deben, formerly known as John Gummer and head of the British government’s climate change advisory body, told The Guardian newspaper yesterday, the day the target was announced.

Even the Marshall Islands took aim, with Foreign Minister Tony de Brum telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that if the rest of the world followed Australia's lead, his country would “disappear,” along with other vulnerable Pacific atoll nations.

Last April, the governmental Climate Change Authority recommended cutting emissions by 30% by 2025 and by 40% to 60% by 2030, relative to 2000 levels. Rejecting the advice, Prime Minister Tony Abbott set the target at 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. “Mr Abbott’s hubris is staggering,” Deben says.

The new target clearly does little to dispel Australia’s reputation as a “laggard state” in the international effort to hold global warming below 2°C, says University of Melbourne climate policy expert Peter Christoff. Previously, Australia was viewed internationally as a climate change leader for establishing a carbon-pricing scheme in 2012. The scheme was repealed in 2014 after the election of the conservative Abbott government.

Coal-rich and coal-dependent Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of all major nations. And according to climate change policy and economics specialist Frank Jotzo of the Australian National University in Canberra, by 2030 Australia’s emissions per person will be double the levels targeted in the United States and Canada, even with the reductions.

The proposal Australia is taking to the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris in December is among the weakest by developed countries. The European Union and Norway  are targeting a 40% reduction; Switzerland, 50%; and Germany, 55%. All of these nations use their 1990 emissions as a baseline. Australia has shifted its baseline, first from 1990 to 2000 and now to 2005 “to lessen its mitigation task but also make it seem tougher,” Christoff notes.

“The target is bad for the climate and bad for our international competitiveness,” says John Connor, CEO of the Sydney-based nonprofit group The Climate Institute.