International scrutiny looms over Australias inadequate pollution reduction targets Media Release

Apr 20, 2015 - 6:00am

Australia’s climate ambition and policies are already receiving direct and veiled criticism from countries in the early stages of of reviewing 2020 pollution reduction targets, said The Climate Institute today.

“The government’s climate ambition and policies are already being questioned, with a clear indication that our major trading partners do not think that we have a credible policy or pathway for achieving any significant pollution target, or that we’re playing our fair share in the global game,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.

“It is clear from the questions being asked by China, Brazil, the US and the EU that they see Australia’s adoption of the minimum 5 per cent reduction 2020 target as inadequate. The questions being posed of Australia indicate a high a level of scepticism on the effectiveness of the government pollution policies.”

The questions were asked in the early days of a UN Multilateral Assessment process of current 2020 pollution targets (see details below) and as the world moves towards finalising the international framework for post-2020 emissions reductions at the end of the year.

So far, Australia has been asked 36 questions about its 2020 targets and policies from the US, Brazil, China, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, NZ, EU. By comparison, there were 33 questions for US, 27 questions for Russia, 32 questions for Japan, and 16 for the UK.

“To its credit, the government has not removed the 2020 target range commitment of 5 to 25 per cent reductions from 2000 levels that they supported prior to and after the 2013 election,” said Connor.

“The minimum 5 per cent is described as unconditional, without international action. With growing climate and clean energy policies elsewhere, like Chinese and South Korean emissions trading schemes, Australia is rightly being questioned about why it appears to be sticking to the minimum target.”

“Australia has also obviously significantly changed climate policies with the taxpayer funded Emissions Reduction Fund its primary policy tool. Other countries appear to be as mystified as domestic analysts about the scale and effectiveness of this policy and asking ‘what else have you got?’”

More than half a decade after its proposal, the Coalition’s Direct Action has now begun operation with the Emission Reduction Fund conducting its first auction last week and results due out by Thursday.

The government has also sought to slash the Renewable Energy Target by up to 40 per cent and, in a recent Discussion Paper, has proposed a ‘’safeguards mechanism” for a limited number of high polluting firms. That discussion paper has been roundly criticised for its loopholes and laxity which would allow increased emissions from most if not all covered companies.

“The early questions posed in the Multilateral Assessment are only the opening salvo of scrutiny for Australia and other nations as international action ramps up towards the Paris agreement at the end of the year.”

“Australia and other nations are building a process of peer review in which those that have credible commitments and policies will be as clear as those that do not. A key focus in coming scrutiny will be how much we are prepared to do in our post 2020 targets, due out mid-year, to make a fair and ambitious contribution to the internationally agreed goal of avoiding a disastrous 2°C increase in global temperature.”

“Without a credible target and effective domestic policies to achieve it our major allies and trading partners will continue to heap on the pressure. They are taking action and they will want use to pull our weight too,” said Connor.

For more information

Kristina Stefanova ● Communications Director, The Climate Institute ● 02 8239 6299


Questions in the media today relate to the climate conventions Multilateral Assessment process established to review 2020 emissions reductions targets. This process aims to transparently compare the efforts of developed countries by increasing international pressure on the ambitions that countries bring to the table. 

The process began in January 2014 and the first group of countries was assessed in Lima (mainly EU countries and the US). There are several stages of questioning:

1. Countries can submit questions on an online portal. This closed on March 31st for Australia. Australia now has two months to answer those questions. These questions were reported in the media today.

2. Countries can ask questions directly at the next round of climate negotiations in a two-hour session in Bonn in June. Australia’s assessment is on the 4th of June.

3. A UN review of Australia’s performance will be released in August.

A similar process will likely continue in the future as part of the post-2020 framework to be agreed in Paris in December.

Example questions asked of Australia:

  • “1990 is an internationally common choice for base year of 2020 targets, but Australia choose 2000 instead. Australia further indicated that the 15% and 25% conditional targets are based on the level of international action, especially from advanced economies … This ambition level is far below the requirement that Australia set out for advanced economies. Please clarify the fairness of such requirements.” - China (p. 10-11)
  • “Australia proposed a conditional target of 15% or 25% based on the level of international action. Please define the term ‘international action’ specifically”. – China (p.10)
  • “Clean Energy Future Plan set out a number of PaMs [Policies and Measures] to achieve the 5% emission reduction target in 2020. However, ETS and CFI, as two core elements of this plan, have been replaced by the Emission Reduction Fund (ERF). What is the expected mitigation potential of this fund? Will it be enough to compensate for what was included in ETS and CFI?” – China (p.9)
  • “In the WM [with measures, or policies in place] scenario, the GHG emissions (incl. LULUCF) of Australia will reach 613 536ktCO2. This equals to an increase of 10.3% and is far beyond the target of 5% reduction. How would Australia achieve its QEWERT [target]?” – China (p.9)
  • “Will the Emissions Reduction Fund constitute the primary measure implemented to replace the ETS, or are other significant Policies and Measures being contemplated?” – US (p.2)
  • “In ‘CTF Table 3 Progress in achievement of the quantified economy-wide emission reduction target: information on mitigation actions and their effects’ are listed only 6 mitigation actions. These may be too few considering the needs of GHG emissions reduction. Are there additional actions to be presented?” – Brazil (p.3)
  • “Considering the low level of ambition presented until now, as well as the historical data, does Australia intend to change its unconditional target in order to increase its level of ambition?” – Brazil (p.4)
  • After detailing the expansion of covered activities in the land sector: “This kind of action seems to make the level of ambition lower, not higher. How will this contribute to meeting Australia's target?” – Brazil (p.5)
  • “What additional PaMs are taken into consideration by the Party in light of longer term requirements to substantially lower per capita GHG emissions as recommended by science and thus contribute to the collective achievement of the 2 degree warming limit?” – Switzerland (p.12)
  • “Could Australia provide information on the anticipated mitigation potential of the ERF to meet the two conditional more ambitious emission reduction targets?” – EU (p. 14)

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