Climate Change Authority

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Chapter 1: Message From The Chair

Climate change poses major challenges for all of us. How these challenges are met will bear heavily on the well-being of current and future generations.

Regrettably, there is presently little political consensus on climate change policy in Australia. This is strangling efforts to implement effective, but sometimes difficult to “sell”, policies. It also puts a premium on independent, balanced and transparent advice from bodies like the Authority which are charged with promoting the long-term interests of the whole community, not short-term political or sectional interests.

The past year has been rather difficult for the Authority, given the oft-repeated declarations of the Government’s policy to abolish the Authority. At this time Parliament is still considering the Authority’s fate but the organisation has already suffered serious damage; four of the Authority’s nine members have resigned and the very talented secretariat assembled in its early days has declined by around two-thirds, to a dozen people in total.

The Authority’s major contribution to the policy debate in 2013–14 was its report Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Targets and Progress Review, required under the Clean Energy Act 2011 (now repealed). The purpose of this review was to recommend emissions reduction goals for Australia and report on progress towards meeting them.

In short, and driven primarily by the science of climate change and what other comparable countries were doing, the Authority concluded that Australia should do more than its current minimum commitment of a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, compared with 2000 levels. It recommended that Australia should target a minimum reduction of 15 per cent by 2020, and argued that further large reductions would be required in subsequent decades if Australia was to play its part in avoiding dangerous increases in global temperatures.

The Authority pointed out that the achievement of the tougher emissions reduction target recommended for 2020 would require significant purchases of international emission reductions, which were presently available at historically low prices.

The Government’s obligation to formally respond to the recommendations in the Authority’s report lapsed with the repeal of the Clean Energy Act 2011.

The Authority also released four additional papers:

  • Coverage, Additionality and Baselines—Lessons from the Carbon Farming Initiative and Other Schemes investigated the experiences of Australian and international baseline and credit schemes, and highlighted key lessons for the development of the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).
  • Light Vehicle Emissions Standards for Australia built on analysis contained in the Targets and Progress Review, and proposed the near-term introduction of standards for light vehicles that are broadly consistent with those in the United States. These standards are estimated to contribute considerable fuel savings for motorists and provide cost-effective avenues for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • International Climate Action—Priorities for the Next Agreement considered the key issues that should be contained in any new international agreement to apply beyond 2020. As a major per capita emitter and a significant player in past climate change negotiations, Australia will be expected to be prominent in the up-coming processes.
  • Using International Units to Help Meet Australia’s Emissions Reduction Targets argued that international trade in emissions reductions has a legitimate place in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and can be seen as an environmentally sound and cost-effective complement to domestic emissions reductions for Australia.

In all its activities, the Authority has consulted widely with the public, meeting with many industry groups, government entities, community bodies and others. All of these groups have provided essential inputs to the Authority’s work and I thank them for their participation and contributions.

I would also like to thank all members of the Board and Secretariat of the Authority (including those who, for understandable reasons, have moved on) for their sustained efforts to provide expert and balanced advice on often complex, but always important, issues. The great pity is that this valuable resource is in danger of being blown asunder, while the challenges continue to mount.

Bernie Fraser