Australia to meet Paris climate targets

Australia is on track to meet its carbon emissions target under the Paris Climate accord five years earlier than expected. The country is installing renewable energy and closing down ageing coal plants for electricity.

Background

The Paris Agreement is within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, starting in the year 2020.195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, and 184 have become a party to it.

The central aim of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change - by keeping global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming.

In Australia, the burning of coal for electricity produces 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions. 60% of the nation's electricity is currently produced in coal-fired power stations. Coal mining has been criticized by members of the environmental movement due to carbon dioxide emissions during combustion. 

Analysis

Australia is installing renewable energy faster than any other country, a trend that will allow Australia to meet its economy-wide Paris targets five years ahead of schedule if politics doesn’t derail the trend. Australia is currently installing renewable power four or five times per capita faster than the European Union, Japan, China and the United States.

While emissions have been rising across the economy since the Abbott government repealed the carbon price after winning government in 2013, they have been falling in the electricity sector because of the closure of ageing coal plants and the rapid uptake of renewables.

Several wind and solar farms have been opened and there is rapid growth in the installation of rooftop solar panels. Based on the new renewable energy that has started in Australia since last June, emissions will drop sharply from the power sector, offsetting possible increases from other sectors, such as transport and farms.

ANU Professor Andrew Blakers said that trend is expected to continue unless politics intervenes. “The electricitysector is on track to deliver Australia’s entire Paris emissions reduction targets five years early, in 2025 – without the need for any creative accounting,” he says.“Australia is on track to reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024 and 100% by 2032,” he says. “The Australian renewable energy experience offers real hope for rapid global emissions reductions to preserve a living planet.”

According to research notes till June 2018, total Australian emissions increased by 3.4 megatonnes substantially due to increased liquefied natural gas exports, but it predicts that will moderate “because of stabilisation of emissions from LNG, the government’s Direct Action program and increased uptake of electric water heaters and electric vehicles”.

To meet Australia’s Paris Climate accord commitment to cut carbon emissions by 26 % to 28 % by 2030, emissions would have to fall to between 430 million and 442 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. As of the end of 2017, emissions had risen to 553.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, according to data from Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

The Morrison government has flagged using a controversial underwriting program to have taxpayers subsidise new coal plants. The energy minister, Angus Taylor, has signalled that new plants could be indemnified against the future risk of a carbon price. A mix of coal power plants pumped hydro and gas-fired power have been presented to the government as options for new electricity generation. The government is pursuing new projects to ensure sufficient dispatchable power is available to the grid to ensure power can be delivered reliably around the clock.

Counterpoint

In 2018, UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that nations must stop using coal by 2050 to avoid increasing the global temperature by more than 1.5C and would require a "global transformation" of all sectors of the economy.  Morrison government rejected the report’s call to phase out all coal fire power, claiming renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power. Coal mining is vital for Australia because it provides for electricity and is a major component of exports. 

Assessment

Our assessment is that Australia is heavily dependent on coal-fired power for electricity and this is a major component of their exports. It also supports the jobs of many Australians. We believe that the Australian Government will have to implement better regulations on how to connect new utility-scale solar and wind farms to the grid. We feel that the State Governments are unlikely to approve projects that do not have sufficient backup storage attached to it.