renewable energy Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

The federal government’s just-released Review of Climate Change Policies asserts that Australia is “on track” to meet its Paris Agreement target, despite the simultaneous release of data showing Australia’s emissions grew by 0.7 per cent over the last financial year.

Despite the rise in emissions, environment minister Josh Frydenberg said the government was “closing the gap” on meeting the Paris commitments due to substantially lowered emissions projections – resulting from lower than forecast electricity demand and faster than expected technology change.

“Australia continues to close the gap on the 2030 target, with the required emissions reductions over 2021-2030 falling another 122 megatonnes compared to 2016,” he said.

“This means the abatement task has fallen by around 60 per cent since 2015.”

The review said the government’s current policy suite provided the “right approach” to meeting the Paris target, with some adjustments, including development of a long-term emissions reduction strategy by 2020 and the possible use of international emission reduction units.

The review warned against being too ambitious in emission reduction policy.

“If we move ahead too fast, industries could face costs not borne by their overseas competitors, or we could lock in technologies that may soon be superseded,” it said. “This would impact on jobs.”

Environmentalists not happy

Sustainability activists haven’t taken kindly to the review.

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said the review highlighted the government’s aim to “remain inadequate”.

“The real test of a climate policy is whether it puts us on a trajectory to keep warming well below 2°C, which is what Australia committed to as part of the Paris Agreement,” Dr Aberle said.

“This climate review makes it clear the Turnbull government has no intention of putting us on that trajectory to keep warming below 2°C. Saying ‘we’ll meet our 2030 target’ means nothing if your target is hopelessly low.”

He was also scathing of the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and plans to “weaken” its safeguard mechanism.

“This completely defeats the purpose of having a safeguard mechanism and shows it is purely decorative.”

The Climate Council said long overdue climate pollution data showing emissions had risen by 0.7 per cent between July 2016 and June 2017 was “shameful” and “embarrassing”.

“Australia risks cementing its position as the global climate laggard, as the federal government sits back and allows the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution levels to climb further and further,” Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said.

“By failing to tackle climate change and getting Australia’s pollution under control, the government is accepting dramatic changes to our climate that will have grave consequences.”

We wanted certainty, we got a greatest hits album

The Investor Group on Climate Change said the review provided no certainty to investors, who were looking for long-term market signals, rather than a collation of achievements.

“Business is looking for a plan on how Australia is going to tackle climate change,” IGCC chief executive Emma Herd said. “Instead they got last year’s greatest hits album for summer.

“Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising in all sectors of the economy. This is creating financial risks for investors. The 2017 Climate Change Policy Review, while noting progress in some areas, fails to deliver a comprehensive national decarbonisation plan for the Australian economy.”

Not much new for built environment

There wasn’t a lot of additional information on the built environment, with the review focused on the National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP) and improved appliance standards.

However, the review did note that planned increases in commercial building performance in the 2019 National Construction Code would go out for public consultation in February 2018.

It also noted a 2018-19 review of the Commercial Building Disclosure Program would consider the effectiveness of the program while also looking at extending it to other high energy using classes of buildings.

For residential property, the government said it was working with the states to “deliver targeted industry training, tools and information to improve compliance with the energy performance requirements of the Australian National Construction Code”.

Other related areas include the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons imports, scheduled to begin 1 January 2018.

PCA calls for more built environment support

The Property Council of Australia welcomed the review, though its chief executive Ken Morrison said the government’s centrepiece policy – the ERF – “does not work for the built environment and is therefore not driving change in this sector”.

“This creates a policy gap in a sector where some of the cheapest emissions reduction opportunities in the economy are to be found.”

He called for better incentives for energy efficiency, and for COAG to commit to “a net-zero emissions trajectory for the minimum energy standards in the [National Construction Code] to be implemented within the established three-yearly review cycle”.

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