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Explained: Viability and criticism of Australia’s 2050 net zero emission target

Australia has announced that it will achieve net zero emissions by the year 2050. What is the meaning of net zero? Why is its plan being criticised?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 27, 2021 1:07:20 pm
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s emission reduction plans have been criticised for being “incomplete” and a “scam”, some news reports have noted | AP

Just days ahead of the climate change conference (COP26) at Glasgow in Scotland, Australia has announced that it will achieve net zero emissions by the year 2050.

Among the developed economies, Australia’s announcement of net zero emissions has come relatively late. For instance, Australia’s neighbour New Zealand committed itself to zero carbon emissions in 2019. New Zealand too said that this target would be achieved by 2050 or sooner.

Other developed economies such as the UK and US have also made such declarations in the recent past. While the UK has said that it will source all of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2035, the US has said that it will halve its emissions by 2030.

For COP26, one of the important agendas is to urge countries to come forward with “ambitious” emissions reduction targets by 2030. The decades leading up to this year are considered crucial when it comes to taking climate change related action. These targets should then align with reaching a net zero situation by 2050.

The other significant climate related agreement is the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to keep temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

What is the meaning of ‘net zero’?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that net zero means consuming only as much energy as is produced. In the context of emissions, it would mean achieving a balance between the greenhouse gases that are produced and the greenhouse gases that are taken out of the atmosphere.

So what is Australia’s net zero target?

Australia’s plan titled the “Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan” will focus on technology with the aim of driving down cost of low emissions technology (this includes clean hydrogen, low cost solar, energy storage and low emissions steel and aluminium) deploying these technologies at scale (this includes steps such as giving incentives to businesses to adopt low emissions technology), helping regional industries (exporting lower emission fuels such as LNG and uranium) and working with other countries to decarbonise the world’s economy (partnering internationally to accelerate innovation and drive investment).

The plan also notes that Australia is on track to reduce emissions by up to 35 per cent by 2030.

The plan summary also claims that each Australian will be better off by $2000 by 2050 compared with no policy action and that this plan is estimated to deliver more than 100,000 jobs by 2050. It also says that household electricity bills will be lower than today and that the “real value” of Australia’s exports is expected to more than triple between 2020 and 2050.

What are the criticisms of the plan?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s emission reduction plans have been criticised for being “incomplete” and a “scam”, some news reports have noted. BBC’s Australia correspondent noted in her analysis that Morrison has failed to explain how this balance will be struck. “How the government will square keeping its coal industry, for example, and reaching net zero by 2050 – and what role technology will play in all of that,” she said.

Additionally, the Sydney Morning Herald said that the policy statement has not revealed new mechanisms to lift Australia to the higher target and also did not include modelling on the net zero goal.

The website called Climate Action Tracker says that Australia’s overall rating when it comes to climate change action is “highly insufficient”. “The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that Australia’s climate policies and commitments are not Paris Agreement Compatible. Australia’s 2030 domestic emissions reduction target is consistent with warming of 4°C if all other countries followed a similar level of ambition,” it says.

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