The Rudd Government’s tweaking of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) does nothing to improve its environmental credibility. Although some support the changes, simple maths exposes the gaping holes in the plan.

The supposed positive for the environment in the package was the conditional offer for Australia to reduce emissions by 25% by 2020 on 2000 levels. In order for Australia to adopt this target, a number of unrealistic conditions have to be satisfied.

Fully functional global carbon markets must be established. There has to be agreement on the coverage of all sectors, including a REDDs scheme (i.e reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). If these weren’t unrealistic enough, the world must also agree to pursue a goal of stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million (ppm) by later this century and take on targets and commitments consistent with this objective.

The details on the commitments from other countries that would satisfy the Government’s criteria are vague. Global emissions must peak no later than 2020, advanced economies (including some countries that do not currently have targets under the Kyoto Protocol) must take on reductions comparable to Australia, and major developing economies must commit to a collective reduction of at least 20% below business-as-usual by 2020.

The most obvious question that stems from this is whether the details we have of the Government’s plan line up with a 450 ppm CO2-e target. The short answer is no.

The best available science tells us that to meet a 450 ppm objective, global emissions must peak around 2010, be down by 5-15% by 2020 on 2000 levels and between 70-80% by 2050. Delay of peaking beyond 2010 makes a 450 ppm outcome unlikely. Further, a 25% target for Australia is unlikely to sway other countries to sign up to a 450 ppm strategy. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being that a 25% target does not constitute an equitable division of the abatement burden.

If we suspend reality and assume all relevant countries agreed to the Rudd Government’s plan, the developed countries as a block would need to cut emissions by around 30-35% by 2020. The target range for developing countries would be around -5% to +10% for 2020, remembering that they are already around 30% above 2000 levels and are predicted to be around 80-100% above 2000 levels by 2020.

The required cuts after 2020 are even more astounding. By 2030, developed country emissions would have to be up to 65% below 2000 levels (this includes Australia) and developing country emissions up to 45% below 2000 levels.

The logic behind the Government’s plan does not stack up. The Government is asking developing countries to shoulder a substantial proportion of the abatement burden, something most have indicated they are unwilling to do. And their reluctance is understandable.

Developed countries have had over 15 years to make inroads into this problem but most have failed to act. Australia now expects developing countries to take up the task when a large proportion of their people live on the bread line and long for a better standard of living — to say nothing of the fact that many developing countries don’t even have the institutional infrastructure to accurately measure their emissions.

The Rudd Government’s 25% pledge is a Clayton’s one — the commitment you make when you don’t want to make one. A more significant move would be to raise its “unconditional” target offer, which currently sits at 5%. If we want to retain hope of achieving an outcome around 450 ppm, developed countries must demonstrate they are willing to lead the global abatement effort.

For more discussion visit Rooted — Crikey’s enviro blog.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey