Australia unveils new emissions reduction target ahead of Paris talks

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveils new emissions reduction target ahead of Paris talks.  (Photo grabbed from Reuters video)
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveils new emissions reduction target ahead of Paris talks. (Photo grabbed from Reuters video)

(Reuters) — Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday (August 11) announced cuts to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions that were immediately criticized by environmental groups and opposition politicians for lagging far behind other advanced economies.

The world’s largest exporter of coal and iron ore will cut emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, Abbott said, a target that will be submitted as part of negotiations on a global climate deal in Paris at the end of the year.

Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters on a per capita basis due to its reliance on coal-fired power plants, and critics say the move will do little to bring it in line with ambitious targets set by the United States and European Union.

Abbott, who has resisted environmental regulations that he says could endanger economic growth, is already facing criticism for his strong support for the coal industry and for scrapping an ambitious carbon tax and emissions trading plan last year.

“We have got to be environmentally responsible, but we’ve got to be economically responsible too. We’ve got to reduce our emissions but we’ve got to reduce our emissions in ways which are consistent with continued strong growth. Particularly with continued strong jobs growth. And, the last thing we want to do is strengthen the environment and at the same time damage our economy,” Abbott told reporters.

Australia is currently aiming to reduce emissions by five percent by 2020, based on the level of emissions in 2000.

Critics accused Abbott of gaming the system by choosing 2005 instead of 2000 for the new benchmark. 2005 was an historically high year for emissions.

The government’s independent expert body, the Climate Change Authority, said last month that Australia needed to reduce emissions by 40 to 60 percent of 2000 levels by 2030 if it was going to meet an international agreement to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

The new target was out of step with the independent expert, targets set by other developed economies and the international consensus, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said.

“It’s a defeatist target that shows no faith in the ability of Australians to adapt, innovate and make the transition to a clean economy,” ACF head Kelly O’Shanassy said in a statement.

A poll released last week by the Climate Institute think tank showed 63 percent of Australians wanted more action on climate change, up six percentage points from 2014.

Australia’s main opposition Labor Party has seized on the shift in public opinion, pledging last month to reinstate the emissions trading scheme and raise the level of energy generated by renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030.

“Tony Abbott is stuck in the 19th century economy and he is robbing this country of its potential,” opposition Greens Party Senator Larrisa Waters said in a statement.