Australia needs to intensify emissions reduction efforts: OECD

Thursday, 31 January, 2019

Australia needs to intensify emissions reduction efforts: OECD

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released its third Environmental Performance Review of Australia, revealing the sobering news that Australia remains one of the most carbon-intensive OECD countries and one of the few where greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land use and forestry) have risen in the past decade.

The review says Australia needs to develop a long-term strategy that integrates energy and climate policies to support progress towards its commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions (including land use and forestry) to 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030. The country will fall short of this target without a major effort to move to a low-carbon model, according to the report, despite making some progress replacing coal with natural gas and renewables in electricity generation. Australia should thus consider pricing carbon emissions more effectively and doing more to integrate renewables into the electricity sector.

With a fast-growing urban population along its coast and rapid infrastructure growth, Australia needs to address increasing pressures on its rich biodiversity. Australia has significantly expanded both terrestrial and marine protected areas and its Indigenous ranger program is a highly effective model for nature conservation; but more now needs to be done to monitor biodiversity and protect threatened species.

“Australia is home to a tenth of global species and is seen by many as synonymous with pristine coastal areas and an outback brimming with nature; however, the country is increasingly exposed to rising sea levels, floods, heatwaves, bushfires and drought,” said OECD Deputy Environment Director Anthony Cox. “This makes it all the more important that Australia take a more proactive role in fighting climate change and addressing biodiversity loss.”

Reliant on coal for two-thirds of its electricity, Australia has one of the highest levels of non-renewable energy use of advanced economies, with fossil fuel consumption still benefiting from government support. Coal, oil and gas make up 93% of the overall energy mix compared to an OECD average of 80%. The share of renewables in electricity generation has risen to 16% but remains below the OECD average of 25%. Furthermore, Australia’s power sector — the country’s top emitting sector — is not subject to emission reduction constraints.

Australia has warmed by 0.9°C over the past 60 years, with the warmest years occurring since 2005. Both rainfall and drought are likely to grow more extreme, and bushfire smoke and dust will increasingly affect air quality. The oceans around Australia are warming, rising and expected to become more acidic, exacerbating pressures on the Great Barrier Reef. Better water management is needed to respond to the changing climate and prevent further toxic algae blooms forming and killing fish in the drought-hit Darling River.

The review thus recommends that Australia:

  • implements a national integrated energy and climate policy framework for 2030 based on a low-emission development strategy for 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement;
  • brings energy taxes in line with environmental impacts of fuel use, likely taxing fuels that are currently exempt and increasing rates that are too low;
  • extends road use pricing through distance-based and congestion charges;
  • fills gaps in data on the status and trends of species and ecosystems, and establishes national biodiversity indicators to measure progress and identify priorities for action;
  • increases investment in biodiversity conservation ecological restoration in line with the scale of the challenge;
  • improves monitoring of water resources, abstraction and quality across river basins, doing more to address water pollution from agriculture.

Both the full report and highlights are available via the OECD website.

Image credit: © Gutenberger

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