Here's what scientists have to say about the cuts made to Australia's carbon emissions target

Prime minister Tony Abbott this afternoon announced his plans to cut carbon emissions reductions.

The new goal is between 26% and 28% of 2005 levels by 2030, down from the previous 30% which was based on UN agreed goals.

Many see this as Australia shirking its environmental responsibilities and choosing the easier path for tackling climate change. There are other who see it is a victory for climate change skeptics within the Coalition.

The prime minister says the cut to the reduction was made to protect jobs and the growth of the country’s economy.

Here’s what scientists have to say about today’s developments.

Jotzo says the cuts falls far short of the international 2 degree goal.

Associate Professor Frank Jotzo is the Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.

“A 26 to 28% reduction target at 2030 falls far short of the international 2 degree goal. Most other developed countries’ targets also fall short, but generally by less than Australia’s.

Among the international community, the target is likely to be perceived as falling short in its ambition relative to Australia’s opportunities to cut emissions deeply. However this target means Australia is at least on the boat with international climate action, even if considered a laggard. Domestically it opens the door to stronger climate change action. A credible plan for domestic policy to achieve the target will be needed.

Australia’s target for reduction in absolute emissions is significantly weaker than that of the United States and the EU, weaker than Canada’s, and on par with Japan’s. The choice of 2005 makes Australia’s target look better than under other base years. When comparing the targeted 2030 emissions level to emissions in the year 2000 or 2012, Australia’s target is much weaker than that of the comparator countries.

In per capita terms, Australia’s emissions are the highest among all major countries, and this would continue under the announced target. At 2030, emissions per person in Australia would be double the levels targeted in the EU and Japan, and higher than the targeted levels in the United States and Canada.

Part of the reason is emissions intensive production of commodities for export, but in this field as in many others Australia has good opportunities for cutting emissions by improving technologies and modernizing the economy.”

Professor Steven Sherwood is Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW.

“Though it could have been worse, a 26% target is about half of what is really needed, and is weak enough to reinforce Australia’s new reputation as the world’s foot-dragger.

Global warming poses a much more serious risk to our future economy than conservation or alternative energy would, so that excuse makes absolutely no sense.”

Adjunct Professor Alan Pears is a Senior Lecturer in Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.

“The government’s assumption that setting a globally responsible, stronger target will damage the Australian economy is deeply flawed.

As expert groups like the International Energy Agency and IPCC have pointed out, there is substantial negative cost (ie profitable) abatement potential available, much of it through energy efficiency improvement and innovation.

At the same time, as noted by Prof Ross Garnaut and Dr Frank Jotzo, the cost of many abatement measures, such as renewable energy, has declined much faster than expected, and will continue to fall through economies of scale and ‘learning by doing’ if we support them.

Further, we can now see that trying to prop up our fossil fuel industries while global demand for them falls is a false economy that undermines our overall economic future.”

Professor Roger Jones is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES), Victoria University.

“The number itself is almost meaningless. Without proper joined-up policy that involves a carbon price, integrated with a mature energy policy designed to make the transition from coal to low-carbon energy as profitable and equitable as possible, such targets are of little use. If the government will not use their own experts (the Climate Authority), then any amount of modelling to rustle up ‘evidence’ to support their position is a waste of everyone’s time. The world is moving so fast that these empty gestures will soon be forgotten, except as a historical footnote.”

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