Pledges And Targets
Paris Agreement targets
NDC update: In December 2020, Australia recommunicated its NDC. Our analysis of its recommunication is here.
Australia ratified the Paris Agreement on 6 November 2016. In its NDC, Australia announced a 26–28% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 below 2005 levels, including LULUCF. This translates into a range of 444–457 MtCO2e allowed emissions level in 2030 including LULUCF (equivalent to a reduction of 26–28% below 1990 emissions level including LULUCF). (Note that the percentage reductions between the NDC target compared to 2005 and 1990 emission levels are similar, as emissions in 2005 and 1990 have less than 1 MtCO2e of difference).
Analysis of the effect of the NDC on likely fossil fuel and industrial GHG emissions is made difficult by the fact that the NDC target includes LULUCF emissions, which have been substantial in the past and fluctuate significantly (Figure 2 under “Data Sources and assumptions” in our Australia report of 2015). We have estimated levels of emissions excluding LULUCF resulting from the NDC by subtracting projected emissions for the LULUCF sector in 2030 from the targeted level including LULUCF. We estimate that the NDC translates into emissions level of 467–445 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF, equivalent to 5% to 10% above 1990 emissions level excluding LULUCF. In other words, because LULUCF emissions were substantial in 1990 (193 MtCO2e), but are projected to be a sink in 2030 (-1 to -10 MtCO2e), the NDC equates to either 26–28% below 1990 when one includes LULUCF or 5–10% above 1990 levels when one excludes it.
In its NDC, Australia states it reserves the right to adjust its target “should the rules and other underpinning arrangements of the agreement differ in a way that materially impacts the definition of our target.” This adds high uncertainty to Australia’s contribution to the Paris Agreement.
The conclusions of the present CAT assessment are subject to the same uncertainty and will need to be revised if Australia makes any adjustments to its target and proposed LULUCF accounting approaches. The government has repeatedly revised emissions projections downwards. This has typically not been backed by stronger climate policies but is rather the result of a change in assumptions. There have been significant recalculations of the LULUCF sector from -1 MtCO2e in the 2018 government projections to -10 MtCO2e in the 2019 government projections, attributed to a continuation of the Climate Solutions Fund that has so far proven ineffective (formerly called Emissions Reduction Fund) (DEE, 2019a; Department of the Environment and Energy, 2018).
The Australian government’s revisions in 2019 to historical data have made the NDC target easier to achieve. The 2016 projections reported 2005 emissions to be 598 MtCO2e, whereas three years later the 2019 report estimates 2005 emissions at 611 MtCO2e (total emissions including LULUCF). Using the 2019 government data lowers the NDC target base year emissions by over 2%, or -13 MtCO2e.
The Australian government has already indicated that it supports the use of international units in principle (Australian Government, 2017, p. 41ff), which would further reduce the domestic emissions reductions.
The government has stated it intends to “carry over” surplus emission units from the Kyoto Protocol towards its Paris Agreement target (Australian Government, 2019a). A number of other countries with such carry overs have explicitly rejected such a move (OECD, 2019). It is not legitimate or defensible under the Paris Agreement (Climate Analytics, 2019c). Carryover would significantly lower the actual emissions reductions to 17–18% below 2005 levels by 2030 (including LULUCF) (Climate Analytics, 2019c).
2020 pledge and Kyoto target
Kyoto Protocol First Commitment Period Target (2008–2012)
Australia’s Kyoto Protocol target for the first commitment period (CP1) (2008–2012) was to limit the increase in its GHG emissions excluding LULUCF to 8% above 1990 levels (QELRO of 108% of base year emissions).
Under the Kyoto Protocol accounting rules (notably Kyoto Protocol Article 3.7), Australia was allowed to add deforestation emissions to its base year for calculating its commitment period emissions allowances. This led to an increase in Australia’s allowances of around 30% per year of the commitment period. Other LULUCF accounting rules applicable to Australia in the first commitment period (Article 3.3) provided debits, which were subtracted from the allowed GHG emissions excluding LULUCF during the commitment period.
Overall, Article 3.7 and the other LULUCF provisions of the Kyoto Protocol resulted in emission allowances exceeding actual emissions by around 100 MtCO2e, despite minimal policy action for that period. Australia ended CP1 with a surplus emissions allowance of around 100 MtCO2e to be transferred to the second commitment period, principally as a consequence of Article 3.7 (which is often called the Australia clause1), and without having to take any action to reduce emissions.
Kyoto Protocol Second Commitment Period Target (2013-2020)
Australia has a target under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period (2013–2020) to limit average yearly emissions to 99.5% of 1990 base levels (a 0.5% reduction). However, after taking into account:
- Article 3.7—a special provision of the Kyoto Protocol that applies to Australia, allowing it to include deforestation emissions in 1990 its base year,2
- the CAT assessment of likely aggregate credits due to Kyoto LULUCF accounting rules, and
- surplus units resulting from the first commitment period
Australia’s allowed GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) could be increased in 2020 to 23–48% above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF (further details on this analysis in our Australia report). Similar to the first commitment period target for the Kyoto Protocol, Australia is thus likely to meet its target, which would have less to do with policy action and more to do with specific accounting provisions, which enable emissions in the second commitment period to exceed real emissions.
Copenhagen 2020 Pledge
Under the Copenhagen Accord Australia proposed three targets for 2020 with different conditions, 5%, 15%, and 25% below 2000 levels. The 5% below 2000 levels goal currently stands as Australia’s unconditional pledge. In its Copenhagen Accord Australia pledges “to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% on 2000 levels by 2020 if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal capable of stabilising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 ppm CO2eq or lower”—with the Paris Agreement long-term temperature goal this condition has been met.
The Australian government has stated: “in defining its targets for 2020, Australia considered that these targets refer to its net emissions from the sector and source categories included in Annex A to the Kyoto Protocol as well as from afforestation, reforestation and deforestation activities, for the base year (2000) and 2020” (UNFCCC, 2014 and DCCEE, 2012)3. The CAT estimates Australia’s unconditional Copenhagen pledge to reduce emissions by 5% below 2000 emissions by 2020 is equivalent to an approximately 9% increase above 2000 levels excluding LULUCF (or to a 27% increase above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF4) after taking into account Australia’s inclusion of afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (ARD) emissions in year 2000 base level emissions and in the 2020 target year.
Since the Copenhagen pledge is not legally binding, there are no pre-existing rules as to which rules apply to this pledge. Some countries, such as New Zealand, indicate that they would use the Kyoto Protocol rules to increase their allowed GHG emissions as illustrated above. If we apply this approach to the Copenhagen pledge, Australia could increase its GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) by up to 22% above 2000 levels (equivalent to 45% increase above 1990 levels) and still officially meet its 5% reduction target.5 The Australian government applies such a Kyoto accounting system to generate a large carbon budget for the period 2013 to 2020 and allowing emissions to increase under their tracking of the 2020 target under the Copenhagen pledge (Department of the Environment and Energy, 2018).
Australia is projected to experience a substantial drop in emissions in 2020 due to lockdown measures and the economic downturn due to COVID-19, meeting its unconditional pledge, but not through climate policy action.
2 | The review of the initial report of Australia for it second commitment period under Kyoto would permit more accurate quantification in the event of any adjustments to its reported deforestation or other emissions in the base year, as occurred in the case of the IRR for the first Kyoto commitment period (http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/irr/aus.pdf)
3 | In comparison with the Kyoto Protocol target, the Copenhagen pledge not only puts forward a different target and base year (2000 vs 1990) but also a different way to calculate base year emissions, as it includes emissions from afforestation, deforestation and reforestation instead of only deforestation as it is done under the Kyoto Protocol.
4 | CRF 2014 data.
5 | For this calculation, we did not use Party-provided ARD projections, instead obtaining the 2020 ARD value by linear trend over the period 1990-2010 for afforestation and reforestation and a linear trend over the period 1990-2012 for deforestation (see Data Sources and assumptions).