Australia is among a number of countries currently not on track to meet their unconditional Paris carbon emissions reduction targets by 2030, a United Nations (UN) report has warned.
The 2018 Emissions Gap Report released today by UN Environment shows that global emissions have hit a historic high and are showing “no signs of peaking”.
Australia is listed as a G20 country that will not meet its 2030 target — alongside Canada, Argentina, EU28, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United States.
Under the Paris agreement, Australia’s aim is to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels.
The Paris emissions reduction targets were set at the climate conference in 2015, and represent the first ever legally binding global climate deal.
The agreement holds 195 signatory countries to a global action plan to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
In response to a damning IPCC report earlier this year on the state of the climate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was on track to meet its targets “in a canter”.
But today’s report states Australia’s emissions on current trend are projected to “remain at high levels rather than reducing in line with the 2030 target”.
The forecast is consistent with the majority of thinking from the scientific community, according to the director of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute, Professor Mark Howden, who was not involved with the latest report.
“Our greenhouse gas emissions nationally keep on going up, and of course to actually meet those targets at some stage they have to go down,” said Professor Howden, who was a review editor on this year’s IPCC report.
“I just don’t see that the mix of policies that we’ve got at the moment are accelerating that reversal.”
In a statement, Environment Minister Melissa Price said Australia would meet its Paris commitments.
“We have the right mix of scalable policies to meet our 2030 targets,” Ms Price said.
“Policies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation have led to emissions reductions in the electricity sector, for instance.”
The Prime Minister’s office referred the ABC to the Environment Minister.
Efforts must triple to hold warming to 2C
In another dire warning for world leaders, the UN Environment report predicts that even if all G20 countries achieve their 2030 targets, global emissions will still be far too high to limit warming to 2C by 2100.
Under the 2030 target scenario, annual global emissions are predicted to increase from their current 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, to 56 gigatonnes over the next 12 years.
But to be on track to keep warming below 2C, UN Environment estimates that emissions need to be down to about 40 gigatonnes per annum by that time.
And to limit warming to 1.5C, global annual emissions would need to be reduced to 24 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum by 2030.
In a statement, UN Environment deputy director and assistant secretary-general Joyce Msuya said it was time for governments to act.
“If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation,” Ms Msuya said.
The report says emissions reduction efforts need to be tripled to keep the world on track to hold warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, and increased five-fold to hold warming to 1.5C.
The consequences of going beyond those temperatures are unprecedented, according to Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University, who was not involved with the report.
“The last 10,000 years, when cities and agriculture have developed, have not been outside the 1C rise — it’s been within that frame. So we’re leaving that safe operating zone and we’re going into a new area we’ve never been before,” said Professor Newman, who was a contributing author on the 2018 IPCC report.
“Even though it doesn’t sound like much — 1.5C — you’re talking about the entire ocean warming up by that much.
“That’s an awful lot of water to heat and that [energy] has got to go somewhere — it goes into storms and … more extreme weather events.”
Australia’s solar a standout among poor performers
Per capita, Australia’s emissions are decreasing alongside many countries around the world.
However, the steady rise in our population continues to push our overall emissions up.
Australia’s energy sector accounts for the highest portion of greenhouse gas emissions.
But Professor Howden said this is also the sector where we are making good ground, despite the lack of a consistent energy policy.
“The broadscale expansion of solar PV and batteries and wind, which continues at pace, is actually pulling back on that [upward emissions] trajectory,” he said.
Behind energy, Australia’s next biggest emitting sectors are transport, agriculture and fugitive emissions from coal seam gas and other mining.
Combined with increased land clearing, it’s these areas where there is the greatest room for emissions reduction, according to Professor Newman.
“We’re not doing well on electric vehicles compared to the rest of the world, and we’re not doing well on LNG — we’ve eased up on those guys that were going to be doing carbon sequestration and they have just been completely irresponsible,” he said.
“And I would add land at this point; reforesting and deforesting — we’re planting a lot but we’re clearing a lot more, and that’s third-world stuff.
“In Europe and America they’re reforesting faster than they’re deforesting. We were, and now we’ve slipped back.”