Towards zero emissions by 2050
At the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (‘COP21’) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (‘UNFCCC’) held in Paris, the world agreed to a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve the “well below 2°C goal”, the concentration of greenhouse gases (‘GHG’) in the atmosphere need to be kept under control, which means that the world has to operate within a given remaining ‘budget’ of carbon emissions. Currently we have a carbon budget of 850 billion tons of CO2 to have a likely chance (estimated as a 2/3 probability) of staying below 2°C. If we want to stay well below 2°C, we need to do better than that, and do it quickly. In this context, the Paris Agreement highlights the need for Parties to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Australia ratified the Paris Agreement on 10 November 2016. Our Nationally Determined Contribution (‘NDC’), dated August 2015, sets an economy-wide target to reduce GHG emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This target has been rated as “insufficient, and with a level of ambition that, if followed by all other countries, would lead to global warming of over 2°C and up to 3°C” by the latest Climate Action Tracker assessment.
However, Australian state and local governments are taking further climate action to contribute their fair share to the world’s path to net zero emissions by 2050. Queensland has been the latest state government to announce their climate agenda with its Queensland Climate Transition Strategy, that includes a commitment for 50% renewable energy by 2030, net zero emissions by 2050, and an interim emissions reductions target of at least 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. This positions Queensland alongside South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania in setting targets or aspirational goals of net zero emissions by 2050.
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At Point Advisory, we have recently completed work for the ACT government to develop their net zero emissions trajectories at the broad sectoral level (stationary energy, waste and land use). We are also working with the Queensland government on their next demand management and energy efficiency strategy.
Local Governments are also making progress in Australia. Some examples of councils´ emissions reduction commitments are as follows:
- City of Melbourne and City of Adelaide – Net zero emissions or carbon neutrality by 2020 on their community emissions
- Byron Bay Shire Council – Zero emissions by 2025
- City of Darebin and City of Moreland – Net zero emissions or carbon neutrality by 2040
- City of Yarra – Net zero emissions or carbon neutrality by 2050
- City of Sydney – 70% absolute emissions reductions by 2030.
Additionally, Melbourne and Sydney are part of C40 Cities, a network of 91 cities across the world committed to addressing climate change by reducing emissions and climate risks, while increasing the health, wellbeing and economic opportunities of their citizens. Together C40 member cities combined community emissions represent 2.4 Gt of CO2-e. During COP23, 25 cities, including Melbourne, pledged to develop climate action plans before the end of 2020 to deliver on their share of emissions reductions required to reach net zero emissions by 2050. New York City and Paris have already delivered on this commitment. Melbourne is on track to develop its climate action plan and has also been recognised as a lead of the C40 Low Carbon Districts network, with Fishermans Bend and Arden Macauley as examples of low-carbon, sustainable, and energy efficient neighbourhoods. Point Advisory is currently finishing developing a net zero carbon strategy for the Fishermans Bend Taskforce, which will inform the next stage of work to refine the climate action plan for the district.
Businesses are also stepping up and leading the way to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy. COP23 witnessed commitments of unprecedented magnitude, such as Microsoft’s pledge to reduce its operational carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030, against a 2013 baseline – this has been estimated to avoid 10 million metric tons of carbon per year, which is equivalent to zeroing out the emissions of the City of Rome. Danone also saw its science-based target to become carbon neutral by 2050 getting approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) during the conference, and so did the Singtel Group, becoming the first company in Asia (excluding Japan) to have its carbon reduction targets approved by the SBTi.
Over 630 companies around the world have made more than 1,000 climate-related commitments through the We Mean Business Coalition’s Take Action campaign. This includes commitments such as adopting science-based emissions reduction targets or joining the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships Initiative to achieve emissions reductions that lead to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.
Whilst setting targets does not directly reduce emissions, businesses’ pledges are sending a clear signal to the market that society is ready to embrace net zero and that regulatory uncertainty needs to be reduced to ensure investment stability and smooth economic growth.
Australian businesses are also playing a role. Point Advisory assisted Westpac to develop emissions reduction targets in line with SBTi criteria. Infigen Energy, Origin Energy, Teachers Mutual Bank, Australian Ethical Investment and Investa have also committed to setting science-based targets. Other Australian companies, such as AGL Energy, Energy Australia, Wesfarmers annd Telstra have shown their support to a 2050 carbon emissions reduction target for Australia that is consistent with the Paris Agreement to aim at net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
As climate action plans and emissions reductions targets get approved and communicated, the focus will shift to whether governments and businesses are in fact delivering on those commitments. To this effect, at COP23, countries agreed on the design of the Talanoa Dialogue, a framework to take stock of the collective progress towards net zero emissions of the Parties to the agreement. This will not only provide insight on the actual tons of emissions that have been removed from the atmosphere so far, but also set the scene for governments to up their NDCs under the Paris Agreement kicking off in 2020. The Australian federal government will then have another chance to truly embrace the challenge of decarbonising Australia’s economy, take on a leading role and unlock the significant economic opportunities the Paris Agreement could offer for Australia.