Yesterday, Bejing released China’s first official report on emissions, entitled “The National Climate Change Assessment”:

If we prematurely assume responsibilities for mandatory greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, the direct consequence will be to constrain China’s current energy and manufacturing industries… Developing the economy and improving people’s lives remains the country’s primary task.

In his Australia Rising speech yesterday, an outline of the government’s vision for the future, Prime Minister John Howard also warned of the dangers of damaging our economy by plucking emissions targets out of “thin air”:

Any decision on a future (post-2012) long-term target will be the most important economic decision Australia takes in the next decade. It will affect every industry and every household. It will change the whole cost structure of our economy… 

…Indeed, I worry about the consequences for Australian families of Mr Rudd’s policy of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 1990 levels. I worry about the impact on jobs in places like Moranbah, Mackay and Gladstone.

Crikey thought this would be an appropriate time to crunch some numbers.

In 1997, Australia agreed to limit itself to an 8% increase in greenhouse gas emissions above the 1990 level by the years 2008-2012.

Ten years on, and Australia’s economy might be on track but it’s been overspending its emissions budget, according to the recent government report “2006 Tracking to the Kyoto Target“, released in December 2006:

Current analysis projects Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions at 109% of the 1990 emissions level over the period 2008-12, which is slighty above the 108% Kyoto target. However, Australia remains committed to meeting its target.

Howard is highly critical of Rudd’s 60% emissions cut by 2050. But is it so out of line with others’ thinking? Here’s a snapshot of the kind of emissions targets that other countries are talking about in their own vision for the future:

The US States:

Arizona: 2000 levels by 2020, 50% below 2000 by 2040

California: 2000 levels by 2010, 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 1990 by 2050

Connecticut: 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020

Illinois: 1990 levels by 2020, 60% below 1990 levels by 2050

Maine: 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020, 75-80% below 2003 long-term

Massachusetts: 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020, 75-85% below 1990 long-term

New Hampshire: 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020, 75-85% below 2001 long-term

New Jersey: 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 2006 levels by 2050

New Mexico: 2000 levels by 2012, 10% below 2000 by 2020, 75% below 2000 by 2050

Oregon: Stabilize by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020, 75% below 1990 by 2050

Vermont: 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 by 2020, 75-85% below 2001 long-term

Washington: 1990 levels by 2020, 25% below 1990 levels by 2035, 50% below 1990 levels by 2050

Examples of targets that have been considered by Congress:

Safe Climate Act of 2006 (Waxman): 2009 levels in 2010, 1990 levels in 2020, 80% below 1990 levels in 2050

Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act (Jeffords-Boxer): 1990 levels in 2020, 27% below 1990 by 2030, 53% below 1990 by 2040, 80% below 1990 levels in 2050

Global Warming Reduction Act of 2006 (Kerry-Snowe): 15% below 2010 levels by 2020, 65% below 2000 levels by 2050.


Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg last week proposed to make Norway the first “zero-emission” state by 2050 and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 30% by 2020.

The EU:

In February, Germany’s Environment Minister announced that his European Union (EU) counterparts had backed an ambitious, legally-binding target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Sigmar Gabriel says the 27 ministers have given in-principle support to a proposed unilateral cut in EU emissions of 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. Mr Gabriel says the ministers will back a goal of cutting emissions by 30 per cent if other industrialised countries join in.

UK: The Labour Government has announced it will set targets for Britain to cut its carbon emissions by 30% by 2020, and 60% by the year 2050, and it says those targets will be legally binding. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey