Friday 24 Sep 2021 | 21:16 | SYDNEY
Friday 24 Sep 2021 | 21:16 | SYDNEY

Why Australia must lead on climate change

24 July 2012 15:13

Fergus Green is co-author of Laggard to Leader: How Australia can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity. He will be launching the report in Sydney tonight and in Brisbane on Thursday.

Since 1992, the international community has been trying to avoid dangerous climate change through the negotiation of a 'grand bargain' within the UN climate framework. In that time, there have been many 'action plans', 'road maps' and 'decisions', meanwhile global energy emissions have soared by 50%.

There is no end in sight. The best-case scenario, based on last year's 'Durban Roadmap', is that a new agreement will come into effect from 2020 entailing emissions cuts for some countries sometime after that. This would be far too little, far too late to avoid catastrophic warming: global emissions must peak and begin to decline before 2020 if the world is to stay within the '2 degrees budget' (and even that would be risky).

Trajectories consistent with a two degree carbon budget (source).

In other words, the UN negotiations will not result in global peak emissions within the 'critical decade'. 'It is clear', note the editors of the world's preeminent scientific journal, Nature, 'that the science of climate change and the politics of climate change, now inhabit parallel worlds'.

Australia, too, is operating in a parallel world. Having introduced a carbon price that it claims will usher in a 'Clean Energy Future', the Labor Government, along with Liberal/National Governments in the resource-rich Australian states, is aggressively supporting a massive program of investment in new coal mines, coal seam gas wells, pipes and ports. These projects will see Australia export a staggering amount of highly emissions-intensive coal and gas during and well beyond the critical decade.

Based on analysis by the Federal Government's resource economics bureau, Australia's combined coal and gas export emissions (which are already twice Australia's 'domestic' emissions) are projected to more than double between now and 2030.

In 2030, Australia's combined (domestic and export) emissions from fossil fuels (2.2 gigatonnnes) would equate to 11% of the world's 2 degree carbon budget in that year (20 gigatonnes – see first graph above).

This data, which is presented in a new report from climate solutions think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, Laggard to Leader, shows that Australia's actions are not 'irrelevant' to global climate change efforts: we are materially worsening the chances of achieving the emissions cuts that are necessary if the world is to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change.

In the second half of our report, we show how Australia can lead the world to zero-carbon prosperity. Australia's central position in the global coal and gas trade and its world class renewable energy resources mean Australia is one of only a handful of nations with the influence and capabilities to make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels. More on that in a follow-up post.