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Wednesday, 03 February 2016 18:05

Paris Climate Change Agreement

The Paris climate change talks in December 2015 produced an agreement hailed as 'historic, durable and ambitious'. Developed and developing countries alike are required to limit their emissions to achieve an objective of limiting average global temperature increases to 2°C with an aspiration of 1.5°C.

There will be regular reviews to ensure these commitments can be improved, if necessary, in line with scientific advice. It is considered that the consequences of increases beyond 2°C such as the costs of adaptation, reduction in food production, risk of extreme events, loss of biodiversity, sea level rise etc will be unacceptable and irreversible.

Finance will be provided to poor nations to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather. Countries affected by climate-related disasters will gain urgent aid.

Like any international compromise, it is not perfect: the agreed caps on emissions are still too loose. Poor countries are also concerned that the money provided to them will not be nearly enough to protect them. Not all of the agreement is legally binding, so future governments of the signatory countries could yet renege on their commitments.

Target Reductions

The commitments for greenhouse gas emission reduction made by nations are called intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

Australia’s target for 2030 is 26–28% below 2005 level (the prior target was 5% below 2000 level by 2020). However, the Australian Government likes to change the goalposts to suit the message:

  • 2005 emissions (612 Mt CO2eq) were much higher than in 2000 (513 Mt CO2eq)
  • 2030 target is about 18–20% below 2000 level

The Climate Change Authority recommended a reduction of 40–60% on 2000 level.

Target reductions for:

  • US is 25–30% on 2005 level by 2025
  • UK is 50% on 2000 level by 2030
  • China is 60–65% per unit of GDP by 2030

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has produced a report on the possible effectiveness of the announced INDCs [1]. The report uses the concept of a global emissions budget to do the analysis.

As greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere for a long time (over 100 years on average) it is cumulative emissions over time (the emissions budget) that have the greatest impact on global warming, with the overall requirement the emissions fall to zero by the end of the century. However the longer the delay before total emissions start to be reduced the more rapid and costly the transition will be.

The total budget for 2011–50 is about 1000 Gt CO2eq if warming is to be limited to 2°C with a 67% probability [2].

The current annual level is around 50 Gt and the INDCs, if achieved, will lead to a level of about 57 Gt by 2030.

That’s right, the trajectory is for increases to continue under the current commitments, mostly in developing countries.

A large proportion of the budget will be used up by 2030, estimated at 54% by 2025 and 75% by 2030. That leaves only 25% of the budget left for the rest of the century.

Much greater efforts will be required after 2030 with greater cost implications unless countries improve their INDCs.

Australia’s Current Policies

It is already doubtful that Australia will achieve the emission reduction targets within the current policy framework. Paying polluters to reduce emissions under the Direct Action Plan will simply not be enough. For a start it is not clear what level of reductions will be achieved. The Renewable Energy Target has been set but still has the uncertainty of regular review.

Organisations like ClimateWorks and Beyond Zero have shown that, if the right policy settings are in place, Australia can easily achieve its target and can actually reduce emissions to close to zero by 2050.

ClimateWorks concludes that economic prosperity will not be damaged. Real GDP may grow by 0.1–0.2% less pa than might otherwise be the case [3]. All that is needed is the right political will from the Turnbull Government.


  1. Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 30 October 2015
  2. Meinshausen et al (2009) Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C. Nature 458, 1158–1162

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