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Meet greenhouse target with Australian renewables, not abatement overseas

It is Australian Government policy to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Despite the good intentions, is the current energy strategy truly “sustainable”? The Gillard Labor Government…

Despite the best of intentions, is Australia’s energy outlook truly achievable? AAP

It is Australian Government policy to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Despite the good intentions, is the current energy strategy truly “sustainable”?

The Gillard Labor Government has taken the courageous first step in introducing a carbon price, but further steps are needed for us to tread a sustainable path.

Given that 75% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions are energy-related, a sustainable energy strategy is crucial for tackling climate change. Such a strategy must be environmentally sustainable in the long term. It also must be economically sustainable to maintain a healthy competitive economy.

Admirable targets, but how can we reach them?

A 5% reduction between 2000 and 2020 is an important milestone on the way to an 80% cut by 2050, and a sustainable future. So how exactly are these targets to be achieved?

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) forecasts a growth of 48% between 2000 and 2030 in Australia’s primary energy consumption.

This involves slowing down the growth rate to around 1.4% per year and increasing national energy productivity. However, there are no suggestions in ABARE’s projections of a levelling off in total energy consumption, let alone a decline.

This problem is manifest in the current projections for Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions. Treasury modelling of September 2011 found that under current policies Australia’s national emissions would still rise 12% between 2000 and 2012. Although this is much less than the rise of 22.5% that would take place in the absence of the government’s “clean energy” initiative, it still falls short of the 5% reduction target.

For 2050, Treasury projects that current policies and a carbon price of $131/tonne by then would lead to just under a 2% fall in national emissions. This again falls short of the 80% reduction targeted.

A big bill for overseas abatement

Treasury concluded that the only way the 5% 2020 emission reduction target could be met would be through purchases of internationally sourced abatement of some 94 megatonnes per year. This would be 62% greater than that achieved through our domestic emission reduction policies.

Australia is investing a lot in sourcing abatement overseas - could it be better spent on renewables at home? CIFOR

Further, to meet the 2050 target, an absolutely massive 435 megatonnes per year of abatement would have to be purchased internationally. This is almost equal to the emission reduction achieved through our own domestic initiatives (463 MTonne/y).

Payments overseas will add up to some $57 billion each year by 2050, and at least this amount thereafter. Comparatively, the total expenditure budgeted by the Australian Government for 2012/2013 is $364 billion.

International emission trading is certainly desirable. However, it is a high-risk strategy to rely so much into the long term on purchasing abatement at a reasonable price when every country in the world will be striving hard to meet its own emission reduction targets.

Countries must first meet their own reduction targets. Only after that can they make further cuts to sell to a second country. Hence countries selling abatement are limiting their own future emission reduction options accordingly.

Current renewable energy projections won’t get us there

Arguably, we in Australia should take more responsibility for curbing emissions within our own borders. We should implement measures to raise our own energy productivity and deploy our own renewable energy sources. Investing $57 billion every year in domestic renewables and energy efficiency would produce a healthy, long-lasting return.

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target of a 20% renewable-energy share of electricity supply by 2020 will lead to a significant boost compared to the current 9.2%. But electricity only accounts for about 40% of total primary energy demand. Meeting the target means renewables will account for only 8% of total demand by 2020.

On current ABARES projections, renewables would meet only 7.6 % of total primary energy demand by 2029-30 period. We must gain a much higher contribution from renewables in order to meet our needs by 2030, and in turn 2050.

Stanford University researchers have recently published two papers that cast light on what a global energy strategy relying solely on energy efficiency and renewables could look like.

They project that strong energy efficiency measures across all sectors could reduce global energy demand by 8% between 2008 and 2030. Their proposal still allows for projected world economic growth.

They conclude a massive shift to renewable water, wind and solar sources could replace our reliance on fossil fuels by 2030. They also note that no reliance on carbon capture and storage and nuclear fission power is necessary.

Australia has the opportunity, let’s jump the barriers

Most importantly, they say that the barriers to a 100% conversion to renewable power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic.

Australia is better placed than almost any other nation to make the transition to a sustainable energy economy.

We have a relatively small population living on a vast land area with bountiful wave, solar and wind resources. We have a strong track record in scientific and technological innovation. We among all nations are one of the best placed to take the lead in deploying renewables.

But with a less than 8% renewables’ contribution to primary energy projected for 2030, we are setting our sights far too low.

The actions we have put into place are all praiseworthy first steps. However, a much greater national investment will be required to make real strides towards a competitive, sustainable energy economy.

Will we be the country that leads the way into the solar era? Or are we going to be the last left clinging to fossil fuels?

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19 Comments sorted by

  1. Zvyozdochka

    logged in via Twitter

    Overseas abatement purchasing is bizarre when we haven't had a red-hot go locally.

    Why are we waiting for;

    1. Compulsory solar hot water & PV on housing at build or re-sale, w/suitable low-interest finance.

    2. Compulsory Passivhaus build techniques on new build, w/suitable low-interest finance.

    3. Retro-fit energy efficiency on buildings at re-sale, w/suitable low-interest finance.

    4. Eliminate wild camels, goats and horses.

    5. Freight from road to rail, road driver training on acceleration.

    6. High-speed train between Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane.

    7. Planning a future link of Western Australian wind/PV capacity with NEM.

  2. John Newlands

    tree changer

    The purchase of foreign offsets is both a form of cultural cringe and a scam. Aren't our offsets good enough? In truth probably none are since the CDM offsets favoured by the EU are dodgy, Example

    Somewhat dishonestly the govt talks of cutting 159 Mt by 2020 assuming steady erstwhile emissions growth. However 5% of year 2000 emissions is a measly 27 Mt which we may achieve anyway. Give the Indos a few dollars to save some trees for the orangutans and declare success.

    Given that the 20% RET is under pressure from heavy hitters getting to 80% renewables by 2050 seems unlikely. Dare I suggest another source of low carbon energy that could be a major part of the 2050 energy mix. We happen to have most of the primary fuel (ie uranium) right here in Australia.

  3. Sarah Waddell

    Sessional Lecturer Natural Resources Law, Indonesian Law at UNSW Australia

    Great article. The level of abatement we should expect to purchase from overseas is a debate we have to have and the government has not been upfront about it. There has been huge investment via AusAID to REDD+ in Indonesia but it is likely that in future Indonesia will need to offset its own emissions given their strong economic growth. The assumption that we can buy our way into meeting international obligations seems arrogant and is likely to be baseless. It is time to be much more ambitious about what we can achieve ourselves.

  4. Dale Bloom


    Yet another article that skirts around the edges.

    In the future, we will have to do much better than what we have done in the past regards anything to do with the environment, because we have an enormous carbon footprint per head of population, and due to the most stupid and dumbest government policies, our population is destined to grow to unsustainable levels in the future.

    “Australia's population in June 2007 of 21.0 million people is projected to increase to between 30.9 million and 42.5 million in 2056, and reach between 33.7 million and 62.2 million by 2101.”

  5. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Professor Andrews

    Who is 'they' in the your following statement?

    "Most importantly, they say that the barriers to a 100% conversion to renewable power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic."

    When you tell me who "they" is, we can begin.

    Gerard Dean

    1. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      And please don't quote the pathetically sad Zero Carbon Australia/Beyond Zero Emissions ' 2010 Stationary Energy Plan" which said that Australia could economically move all power generation to renewables within 10 years at virtually no cost. Oh yes, I must tell you that the ZCA/BZE organisation is a child of the renowned Melbourne Energy Institute, which is part of Melbourne University.

      So, it would be great if you can tell who the other 'theys' are.

      Gerard Dean

    2. Laurie Gutteridge

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gerard Dean


      The author is referring to the Stanford University that he quotes a few paragraphs before.

    3. John Andrews

      Associate Professor, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      The full references and web links to the two Stanford University papers I refer to, the link provided in the article to which unfortunately is now not working, are:
      Mark Z.Jacobson a, Mark A.Delucchi b
      a Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, StanfordUniversity,Stanford,CA94305-4020,USA
      b Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis,Davis,CA95616,USA
      “Providing all global energy…

      Read more
    4. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Oohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Stanford University is the "They". Well that changes every thing Professor - or does it?

      I read over the report and sadly, it appears to have lots in common with the BeyondZeroEmissions/ZeroCarbonAustralia report for our University of Melbourne.

      Simply put, nuclear is out, biofuel is out in Stanford, in in Melbourne, coal is out, gas is out. What's in? Wind, Wave, Tidal, Solar Panel, Geothermal, CST(Concentrated Solar Tower) and Hydro.

      Well, more hydro in Australia…

      Read more
  6. Tim Scanlon


    I'm not a fan of abatement. I agree that we should be moving to an emission free country, ASAP.

    The reason I don't like abatement is that it is an excuse to continue with our bad habits of emissions whilst pretending we are doing something about it. The reality is that carbon sequestration of fossil fuels is damned hard to do. Trees and soil can only hold so much before it will top up or encroach on our ability to provide food for the world. We also need those carbon sequestration methods to soak up all the extra emissions we have already let loose. Remember, we've been emitting since the industrial revolution, and before we make the full switch we will also be doing massive emissions. If we want to bring our global CO2 levels back to a "better" level, we'll need our abatement for that and not for offsets.

  7. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Professor Andrews,

    Your last line almost made me cry, "Or are we going to be the last left clinging to fossil fuels?"

    I note that you don't mind choosing to cling to the odd jet aircraft that burns JetA1 fossil fuel.

    Your article exhorts me to stop burning fossil fuel, but you choose to fly and in so doing, choose to burn fossil fuel.

    Do you think it is fair, or just, to tell me not to burn fossil fuels, then to choose to burn them yourself?

    Gerard Dean

  8. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    I love that every article about the climate will have bth Gerald Dean and Dale Bloom desperately repeating their talking points about A1 Jet fuel and the massive conspiracy that is "Climate Change". It amuses me at least.

    Good Article, thanks for posting, I think the only way is to follow what "Zvyozdochka" wrote, which is make it law that if you build a new building - it has to have solar panels and or wind, retro fit all existing public buildings and land.

    At some point we have to say enough is enough and jst force people to do these things.

    Property developers are their to make money....thats it

    they are not their to provide the best investment of resources or to build better citys - they only care about making money, they will not do this on their own, we need to make it compulsory

  9. mark feltrin

    Renewable Energy and Resources

    As a carbon credit officer I agree totally but i also have to ask what are the basis of the projections used in terms of population projections particularly out to 2050?

    Can the author assist

    1. John Andrews

      Associate Professor, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to mark feltrin

      I agree population growth assumptions are important.

      The ABARES projection I referred in the article to assumed a population increase from 21.6 million in 2008 to 28.5 million in 2030, an average annual growth rate of 1.27%, based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics midrange population forecasts

      I am not sure what Treasury assumed for population growth out to 2050, but I would expect it was probably again based on ABS projections.

    2. Dale Bloom


      In reply to John Andrews

      The ABS have 3 projected population figures based on fertility rate, life expectancy, net overseas migration and interstate migration.

      Depending on the variable variables, Australia’s population will be between 30.9 million and 42.5 million in 2056.

      At present, we don’t have a population policy, so it is unknown whether the population will be 30.9 million or 42.5 million in 2056.

      Regardless, Australia’s carbon footprint and ecological footprint is amongst the highest in the world per head of population, and any increase in the population will only increase that carbon footprint and ecological footprint.

    3. mark feltrin

      Renewable Energy and Resources

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "or 42.5 million in 2056."
      does'nt that then void these projections considering the community discussion about Australia having sustainable population base, which ranges from Federal Senate inquiry (headed by Barry Jones) low 20 million (past that) to Labor MP Kelvin Thompsons idea of 26 million, to liberal suggestion (Tony Abbot) of 29 million to business lobby groups suggestion of 36 million. These are all suggestion of stabilised population numbers. There are notable community groups like Sustainable Population and also a political group called Stable Population and notable individuals like Ian Lowe and Tim Flannery calling for more progressiveness on this subject. In light of this does this make a bit of a mockery of the projection especially when there is currently so much building community pressure to reach for defined national population limits?

    4. Dale Bloom


      In reply to mark feltrin

      Population growth seem to be the least concern for the main political parties at present, and their main concern seems to be name calling and character assassination.

      From what I can see of the situation, the ABS series B would be the most probable population projection.

      “In Series B, the population will reach 35.5 million in 2056 and 44.7 million in 2101.”

      However, I would expect a major reduction in quality of life for Australians with a significant increases in population numbers, and a major loss of ecological habitats in Australia with any further increase in population numbers while retaining our current lifestyles.