So it is irrelevant when the Coalition claims that we will reach our Paris commitment of 28% reductions “in a canter,” as the commitment itself is woefully inadequate. In any case, this claim is highly contested by scientists, and it relies on credits we still have from meeting our extremely weak previous commitments, unlike other countries.
Every year we delay, things get worse! According to Ross Garnaut’s recent lecture, if we had started cutting emissions in 2014, we would have had to 2050 to reduce our emissions to zero, and still contribute fairly to a 1.5oC world. But we didn’t. So now if we immediately adopt a 45% target, we will need zero emissions by 2040. If the government persists with a 28% target, all of our emissions budget will be used up by 2035, and our rate of reductions between 2030 and 2035 would need to be phenomenal.
When we look at the global commitments again, according to the UN Environment report, we are on track for over three degrees of warming. According to the UN World Meterological Organisation, it’s now more like 4oC.
Four degrees means the probable collapse of many societies and natural systems (World Bank 2013).
At four degrees, climate refugee estimates range from 140 million to 1 billion by 2050.
A just response
How do we decide what Australia’s carbon budget should be, given our historically high emissions, our wealth, and our small population?
Methods vary, but a mid range figure is about 64% reductions by 2030.
These mid-range methods, which tend to rely on the approach called “modified contraction and convergence” deny any historical responsibility- we don’t have to make up for our record high emissions over the last decades. (This approach is explained in the 2008 Garnaut Review). The mid-range methods allow Australians to continue to emit much more carbon per person than the global average, up until 2050.
For example the Australian Climate Change Authority, in line with other Australian analysis, allowed Australia one percent of the global carbon budget, though we have only 0.3% of the population.
That is, Australian calculations used in all the figures cited here allow Australians 3x more carbon than the world average. Is that fair?
Others estimates, which take into account Australia’s status as one of the world’s wealthiest nations as well as our past record high emissions, call for 100% emissions reduction by 2030 (Zebedee Nicholls, Australian-German Climate and Energy College, May 2019, pers comm.)
According to Penny Sackett, Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Australia will have used up its share of the remaining carbon budget by 2022!
Zero emissions by 2030 is technically possible, according to Beyond Zero Emissions: even the red meat sector. It will be up to Australia’s citizens to create the necessary political will.
The emissions target of 65% suggested in the 2019 NSW.ACT Synod resolution, then, is very middle of the road, if that. It remains unfair to the poor, takes no account of our past massive emissions, and only gives us a 50/50 chance of keeping warming to 1.5oC. The Victorian Government’s 2019 expert review panel, concluded that a 67% reduction by 2030 would only deliver a 50/50 chance of staying below 1.5oC.
Therefore a morally responsible, scientifically credible national emission target, falls somewhere between 64% and 100% reduction of emissions from 2005 levels, by 2030.
The Uniting Church in NSW.ACT is yet to set its own target, but Uniting has opted for 50% reduction from 2008 levels given the current political context. This will accompany a renewed advocacy push to achieve a scientifically valid and morally responsible national target: ie to change the current political context and let Uniting set a higher target. So far, Uniting has achieved 25% emissions reductions since 2008.
It is also worth noting that a considerable portion of the Church’s emissions come from creating a social good (accommodation and social services), not luxury items.
Uniting Financial Services implemented the Synod’s divestment policy, refused to sell land for a coal fired power station, and they now target positive environmental investments. There is also work going on in congregations.