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 Opinion Pieces
 
Australia is an over-achiever in cutting carbon emissions

Published: Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Author: The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Publication: The Australian Financial Review

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Today, the Turnbull government released new carbon emissions data for the June quarter and updated emission projections out to 2030. The message is a positive one. Emissions fell in the quarter by 0.6 per cent, the largest quarterly decrease in four years. This included a significant 1.8 per cent reduction in the electricity sector.

Emissions across the economy are now the lowest on a per capita and GDP basis in 28 years, having fallen 34 per cent and 58 per cent respectively since 1990. Just as Australia beat its first Kyoto target by 128 million tonnes of CO2, we are on track to easily surpass our 2020 target.

The latest data indicates we will over-achieve by 294 million tonnes, which is a 30 per cent or 70 million tonne improvement on the year prior. When one considers one million tonnes of carbon abatement is the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road for a year, this is substantial.

When it comes to our 2030 target, the updated data also shows a big drop in the required emissions reduction. The abatement task has fallen 122 million tonnes over the year and around 60 per cent in the past two years. In fact, compared with 2012, when Labor was last in office, the emissions outlook today is around three times better.

There is still much work to be done, but it is clear the emissions intensity is changing and our suite of policy measures are working. Our approach is to simultaneously address climate change, while ensuring strong job creation, the international competitiveness of our industry, and energy affordability and security, is maintained.

The merits of this approach is borne out by our Climate Change Review, which was also released today. After a lengthy and rigorous process of stakeholder consultation and more than 350 written submissions, the Review has confirmed the significant impact of Australia's global and domestic actions to reduce emissions.

While having just 1.3 per cent of the global carbon footprint, we are more than playing our part. We've established the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit to prevent deforestation; and led the International Partnership on Blue Carbon to protect the world's seagrasses, mangroves and tidal marshes, which represent a significant carbon sink; and we are contributing at least a billion dollars to climate finance with a focus on our region; are foundation members of the International Solar Alliance and Mission Innovation; and co-chaired the international negotiations under the Montreal Protocol, which led to a historic international agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). 

On the domestic front, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which is one of the largest carbon-offset programs in the world, has contracted more than 190 million tonnes of abatement, 80 per cent of which has been in the agricultural and land sector. The Climate Change Authority has recently concluded that the ERF is "performing well" and the Australian National Audit Office has found that it has sound crediting and purchasing arrangements.

In the energy sector, the Renewable Energy Target is driving, in the words of the Clean Energy Council, an "unprecedented wave of investment" in renewables, with more than $9 billion worth of projects and more than 4,500 megawatts of capacity either being built or committed this year.

The Government is also supporting innovation in the energy sector that is driving down technology costs. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has made more than $4 billion in investment commitments, around $3.5 billion of which has been made under the Coalition, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency has made more than $1 billion of grants, around half of which has been made under the Coalition.

The National Energy Guarantee and the Turnbull government's investment in battery and pumped hydro storage projects, like Snowy Hydro 2.0, will be the next major step in managing the transition to a more reliable and affordable energy system.

The National Energy Productivity Plan, which seeks to boost energy efficiency by 40 per cent by 2030, is also having an impact. With the built environment representing around a quarter of Australia's emissions, we've expanded commercial building disclosure requirements and developed a new regime to enable buildings and precincts to voluntarily go carbon neutral.

New standards on lighting and household appliances, like fridges and pool pumps, will drive down power bills and emissions, and build on previous gains, which saw the average Australian household nearly $200 better off each year as a result of energy efficiency initiatives.

The Review also considered the use of international permits. There are more than 60 countries that have indicated that, as part of the Paris accord, they want to participate in the market once international rules are finalised. These include like-minded economies Canada, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Recognising the Government's commitment to seeking emissions reduction at lowest cost, we are giving in-principle support to the use of permits, with a final decision by 2020 on appropriate timing, quantity and quality considerations.

As an outcome of this Review, the Turnbull Government will also consult with industry on improvements to the safeguard mechanism, simplifying reporting requirements and updating data. Consistent too with the Finkel Review recommendations and the majority of G20 countries, the Government will develop a long-term emissions reduction strategy by 2020. Also consistent with the Paris Agreement, the Government will establish five-yearly domestic policy reviews of our climate policy, which will assist industry in providing certainty over the medium and longer term.

Josh Frydenberg is the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy.

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