Apathetic Australian government urged to action on HFCs, climate change

By James Ranson, Aug 20, 2015, 10:32 3 minute reading

Described as the worst-performing industrial nation on climate change at the UN talks in Lima last year, Australia has finally awoken from its slumber announcing plans to reduce HFCs by 85% by 2036 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

On August 11, 2015, conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet unveiled proposals to take a Direct Action approach to climate change, including a $2.5 billion Emissions Reduction Fund, the phasing out of high-GWP (global warming potential) hydrofluorocarbons and direct investment in low emissions technologies and practices.
The government’s commitment to an 85% phase down of HFCs by 2036 is commendable as countries work to conclude a meaningful new global agreement at the Paris climate change conference in December 2015.
In addition, the new GHG emissions reduction target signals a positive step up from Australia’s weak commitment to reduce emissions to five percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and directly addresses Australia’s commitments to the Montreal Protocol as one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
The Abbott Government received 498 submissions from businesses and industry stakeholders with an overwhelming majority urging it to take clear, firm action.
Details on the steps required to achieve the reduction targets involved in the phase down have not yet been released. The long timeframe and absence of benchmarking could well be an attempt to prolong Australia’s ‘wait and see approach’.
Alarmingly, the target factsheet states that the government will not consider Australia’s emissions reduction policies in detail until 2017-18 in consultation with businesses and community.
Details of the new Direct Action policies
The Emissions Reduction Fund provides incentives for Australians to reduce their emissions, energy costs or store carbon in the land.
Businesses, communities and landholders are urged to propose new projects using emissions reduction methods with the government already committing $660 million to projects following the first auction in April, 2015.
  • It also includes a safeguard mechanism to be implemented on 1 July 2016, which will ensure that emissions reductions purchased by the government are not offset by significant rises in emissions elsewhere in the economy. 
  • The phase out of hydrofluorocarbons in HVAC&R applications at a reduction rate of 85% by 2036.
  • The National Energy Productivity Plan to target energy usage in households and businesses, improving Australia’s energy productivity by 40 percent between 2015 and 2030.
Step in the right direction but is it enough?
Australia famously became the world’s first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, in July 2014. 
The move from conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott included scrapping the carbon tax introduced by the previous Labor government as well as an HFC levy that shed greater light on natural refrigerants for the two years it was in place.
Australia represents just 0.3% of the world’s population but accounts for 1.5% of its carbon emissions, due largely to the nation’s extensive coal-fueled mining industry.
With this target, it’s true that Australia’s per-capita emissions will drop by at least 50 per cent. That’s more than the countries like the US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and China. 
However, Australia is using 2005 as a baseline rather than 1990 - the UN standard base year.
The Australian government’s proposal to cut green house gas emissions by 26% by 2030 equates to just an 18% reduction based on 1990 levels. 
What’s more, a fact sheet on the policies suggests businesses and industry strongly urged the Australian Government to do “its fair share”.
It goes on to contend that the country is playing “a significant role through practical actions to reduce emissions and improve the environment in the Asia-Pacific and in partnership with other countries,” but does not state what these practical actions are.
Although positive moves have been made, the next step for Australia may be taking progressive unilateral action to phase down emissions rather than waiting for the rest of the world to act first.


By James Ranson

Aug 20, 2015, 10:32

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