What are Other Countries Really Doing about Carbon Emissions?

Given the mass of conflicting information surrounding Australia’s climate change policy; one might want to try to find out what the rest of the world really is doing.  Unfortunately, currently missing from the online information about climate change policies around the world is one non partisan website that compares and contrasts the policy action being undertaken by governments around the world. However, there are various Wikipedia sites that do a reasonable job of aggregating ETS, RETs, carbon tax and other policy instruments commonly utilised around the world. These include;

Emissions trading

Carbon tax

Renewable energy targets.

But to really learn about climate change policy around the world you have to visit each country’s government site and then compare for yourself. So in this post we provide links to some of these websites and briefly outline the policies they describe.

Starting with New Zealand, you might be aware that NZ has had an operating ETS since 2008. If not you can read about the NZ ETS and other measures here.

In the EU, overlaying individual country policies is the EU ETS which you can read about here. The ETS in operation since 2005 covers emitters which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of CO2. The EU ETS alone aims to deliver emissions cuts of 21% (based on 2005 levels) by 2020.

In addition to the EU ETS most European nations have individual emissions reductions policies that include renewable energy targets, CO2 or energy taxes, feed in tariff policies and renewable energy certificates. A selection of these follow.

For example in the UK you can read about the Climate Change Act which puts in place a framework to achieve a mandatory 80% cut in the UK’s carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), with an intermediate target of between 34% by 2020. Other policies include renewable energy obligations, a nation-wide cap and trade scheme that goes beyond the existing EU ETS, and low carbon buildings programmes.

Sweden’s climate change policy website leads with the announcement that Sweden is spending SEK 5 Billion (AUS$ 1 billion) between 2009 and 2011 on climate change mitigation policy. Other existing climate change policy instruments which include a CO2 tax in operation since the 1970’s, a renewable energy certification scheme requiring consumers to buy 7% of their energy from renewable sources since 2003; and an oil phase out programme with the following 2020 goals; consumption of oil in road transport to be reduced by 40-50 per cent; consumption of oil in industry to be cut by 25-40 per cent and heating in buildings with oil, a practice already cut by 70% since the 1973 oil crisis, should be phased out completely.

Germany is committed to a 40 per cent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020; and through a huge investment in renewable energy, together with participation in the European ETS; Germany is well on its way to meeting these targets, despite also promising to phase out nuclear power.

In the US, while there is no national policy as yet, many states have climate change policies; for example California. Under the AB 32 act of 2006, California aimed to cut emissions by 11 percent by 2010 (which it achieved), 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. To deliver these targets California will install a million solar roofs, develop a high speed rail network, launch tough new vehicle emissions standards (already among the toughest in the world) and the state has already launched a cap and trade programme that covers 85% of all emitters.

There is a Northeast US regional cap and trade programme called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This program launched in 2009 with the aim to reduce the carbon “budget” of each state’s electricity generation sector to 10 percent below their 2009 allowances by 2010. The iniative includes nine Northeast states.

Japan’s carbon change policies can be found here. Like the US, Japan’s current cap and trade schemes operate at a city or regional level.

In 2007 China’s published its’ first National Action Plan on Climate Change. Since then there have been more announcements; for example just this week China announced it will pilot an emissions trading scheme in eight Chinese cities starting in 2012, to be then rolled out nationally in 2015. And estimates suggest it is on track to meet its UN target of a 40-45 per cent cut in emissions intensity by 2020. (Note than intensity is different from absolute cuts).

So a quick tour of online climate change policy information from around the world, clearly indicates there are many policies being implemented to mitigate climate change. The facts clearly contradict claims in Australia that we will be acting ahead of the rest of the world. Even with our planned 5% reductions on current emissions levels at 2020 are delivered, it appears we will still be the highest emitter per capita in the developed world.

So to wrap up, here is Australia’s own climate change policy website. The site leads with a ‘click through’ to Australia’s ‘Clean Energy Plan”. From here you can download key policy documents outlining the overall climate change plan. What you realise from the site is that the emphasis is more on what the government is doing to assist consumers and industry; rather than the goals, objectives and vision guiding Australia’s climate change policy; in fact these performance metrics are hidden in the accompanying documents. I guess this very much reflects the political reality of the issue in Australia at the moment.

What is clear, however, is that Australia does not run any risk of taking leadership in carbon abatement—on the contrary, we are lagging behind many other nations despite the fact that our emissions are historically very notable and that we are one of the world’s “dirtiest” generators of energy.