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Targets for failure

By Mike Pope - posted Friday, 25 September 2009

The Rudd Government has set a number of targets to curb global warming and its effects. Many fail to achieve the outcomes claimed for them or have undesirable outcomes which increase rather than abate global warming. Among these are the following:

Target 1. By 2020, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2C above those of the pre-industrial period.

Government is only committed to reducing Australian GHG emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 unless all other countries agree to a higher percentage at the Copenhagen Conference - an unlikely outcome.


Scientists have already warned that a minimum 25 per cent to 40 per cent reduction below the 1990 level of GHG emissions must be achieved by 2020 to ensure this, followed by moving towards a near carbon-free economy by 2050. Some scientists assert that a 2020 target of 40 per cent - 50 per cent below 1990 emissions must be aimed for. Since government policies ensure that GHG emissions by Australia are continuing to rise, it is doubtful that even a 5 per cent target could or would be achieved.

The 5 per cent target is wholly inadequate and has nothing to do with timely curtailment of emissions to ensure that global temperatures rise by no more than 2C before 2100. It has everything to do with protecting the economy by ensuring that the price of energy in Australia remains unchanged vis-à-vis its cost in other countries.

Target 2. Ensure that global warming does not exceed 2C above the pre-industrial temperature by 2100.

However, scientists have stated that in order to achieve this target, countries must reduce their emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent by 2020. Since most of the major emitters have no intention of aspiring to, let alone achieving, this target it is possible that global warming could result in an increase of 5C by 2100.

It is wrong to claim that Australia is acting to limit global warming to 2C by 2100 or that this can be achieved. It is wrong to believe that global warming will not result in much higher global temperatures, particularly in polar regions where recent temperature increases have exceeded average global increases.

It is wrong and dangerous to assume that this will not cause major and escalating melting of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets with catastrophic effects on sea level and flooding of the most densely populated and cultivated coastal land areas.


Target 3. Legislate for a mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) to ensure that 20 per cent of energy comes from renewable sources by 2020.

Many believe that implementation of this target will result in a 20 per cent reduction in GHG emissions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Productivity Commission (PDF 547KB) has drawn attention to the fact that once an ETS has established a price for carbon, an MRET does not result in greater reduction of carbon emissions, merely the composition of those emissions. The only exception to this is where the carbon price set by the ETS is so low that it does not result in a carbon reduction above that arising from the MRET.

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About the Author

Mike Pope trained as an economist (Cambridge and UPNG) worked as a business planner (1966-2006), prepared and maintained business plan for the Olympic Coordinating Authority 1997-2000. He is now semi-retired with an interest in ways of ameliorating and dealing with climate change.

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