Purpose: To explain that Australia cannot be accused of underperforming in the quest for net zero.
Background. When overseas national leaders make verbal commitments to move towards net zero, many commentators think that this means we are making progress.
Almost the only evidence of progress is the statements themselves.
Countries world-wide are failing to live up to their self-imposed obligations under the Paris agreement – where the goals are often nominal – let alone the tougher requirement of net zero.
Not everyone is convinced that we need to be alarmed about CO2 emissions and that is a topic for another note. This note is about the difference between the alarm that is expressed and the actions, or lack of actions, that follow.
The 2015 Paris Agreement came into effect in 2020, allowing each country to nominate its own emission goals (Nationally Determined Contributions.) Many countries, notably top emitters India, China and Russia, set their Contributions too low to make any difference.
The goals are not legally binding. The only obligation is to nominate goals and to lodge updated goals every five years or so.
See the Supporting Information for commitments (NDCs) and the emission reduction efforts of major emitters.
In the real world.
In 2019 the Climate Action Tracker group looked at 32 countries which together account for 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Only seven were doing enough to meet the Paris goals. India was the only one of those countries in the top ten of CO2 producing countries.
The Tracker group was impressed by the fact that India has already met a major Paris goal with 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity being “clean” power. But the country was almost there before Paris!
Tracker group has an updated climate action map on its web site https://climateactiontracker.org/.
The standout success in emissions control appears to be Morocco, with a very small manufacturing sector.
Compared with the rest of the world Australia has done very well in reducing emissions. The increasingly urgent talk about net zero both at home and abroad
comes from those who have no idea what it means or what it entails.
They ignore the fact that many countries are only making token efforts.
Declaring support for the concept of net zero as far away as 2050 or 2030 is convenient because next to no current leaders will be in power in 2030 and none in 2050.
Similarly business leaders can signal their virtue while knowing that they may never be held to account for what they are saying now.
Recommendation. Australia has done well by world standards, so stop accepting that Australia deserves to be a target for international ridicule.
List of top emitters (share of CO2 produced annually)
China (28%) – President Xi Jinping’s announcement in September of 2020 that China would aim for peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 would be more believable if the country was not building so many coal fired power plants. The Green group Global Energy Monitor estimates that China commissioned 38.4 Gigawatts worth of new coal plants in 2020; more than three quarters of new plants world-wide.
USA (15%) – American President Joe Biden signed the Paris treaty as a presidential agreement, not as a treaty binding the country. The wording on the document, negotiated when Obama was president, was changed so that it could not be considered a treaty under American law. President Biden has a climate agenda to match his rhetoric and the states are pursuing their own agendas which vary all the way from California which intends to ban the sale of petrol cars by 2035, Texas where the legislature remains opposed to passing any environmental plans.
India (7%) – set up its NDCs so that it could meet them easily. Another part of its pledge is to “cut greenhouse gas emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33% to 35% by 2030”, but this is meaningless as the intensity is declining anyway.
Russia (5%) – Russia’s NDC, updated in 2020, pledges that by 2030 emission levels will be limited to 70 per cent of the levels of 1990. This sounds impressive but so much inefficient and polluting old plant has been replaced in the meantime that Russia doesn’t have to do anything to meet its Paris goals.
Japan (3%) – In October 2020 Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared that Japan would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Fine words but Nikkei Asia reported that the country still has 150 coal fired power plants and it may help to make them more efficient but that is nothing like the drastic action required to achieve net zero.
Germany (2%) – Like the UK, Germany is struggling to keep the lights on during the regular wind droughts that occur across western Europe. It is not possible to see how they will survive the closure of their remaining nuclear plants in the next year or two and the end of coal power by 2030 (advanced from 2038).
Iran (2%) – One of the few countries not to have ratified (confirmed that it will comply, as opposed to signed) the Paris treaty, the country has many other matters to contend with besides emission reductions.
South Korea (2%) – The promise is to cut emissions by 24 per cent from a 2017 baseline by 2030 by buying green credits from overseas and possibly by increasing the carbon absorbed by forestry and land use. Experienced observers of the climate action scene may suspect that the country may simply fiddle with assumptions for carbon absorbed by forests and land use to find extra credits, as other countries have done, notably in meeting obligations under the earlier Kyoto protocol. No need to bother industry or voters.
Saudi Arabia (2%) – The goal declared under the Paris treaty involved cutting emissions and increasing the use of nuclear energy and renewables but this was made dependent on “a robust contribution from oil export revenues to the national economy”. Oil prices are down so not much is happening.
Indonesia (2%) – Listed as a major emitter because of its treatment of forests and carbon-rich peatlands, the country has promised to clean up its practices in this area, which includes doing something about slash and burn farming. Farmers will clear an area for, say, a palm oil plantation, by burning it out. This practice can cause major fires, as occurred in 2019 – fires which produce more carbon dioxide per day than the entire American industrial output.