In a submission to the Climate Change Authority’s caps and targets review, Engineers Australia’s Sustainable Engineering Society (SES) has called for the Authority to examine higher emission reduction targets.

“Engineers Australia has recommended that the Climate Change Authority (CCA) investigates targets of 25 per cent emissions reductions and above as appropriate trajectories that Australia should target by 2020,” said SES chair Lara Harland.

Although the CCA review suggests action has historically been taken by successive Australian governments in this form of climate action, the SES says bilateral agreements on our emissions targets fall short of what is necessary for Australia to contribute appropriately to strong global action.

Australia occupies the unenviable pole position in the ranking of countries by per capita emissions.

“Similar to what has been witnessed in the European Union over the past decade, we can expect that demand will come from business for strong and binding commitments that can be exempt from the political cycle and provide stability,” Harland said.

Under the Clean Energy Act 2011, Australia has committed to support the climate change action target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius following an international agreement reached during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

Recent studies from scientists within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including Climate Change Authority board member professor David Karoly, have re-affirmed that the likelihood of Australia remaining within this two degree limit is fast diminishing. The average of the three models presented in Karoly’s recent paper project an increase in the global average temperature of between a three and four degrees if current emission trends continue.

There is particular concern from the SES that Australia is offloading much of the responsibility for emissions to the country of use. In the case of exported raw materials and coal in particular, taking this stance is effectively taking the stance that Australia’s resources are theirs to profit from and the negative externalities belong to the importer. These materials may well then be destined for import back into Australia for local consumption after another country has dealt with the dirty business of making consumer goods from the raw material.

The ramifications of inclusion may be large, says the SES,  but improved policies that empower the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to ensure carbon market stability and incentivize low-emissions technology development will greatly assist the development of new commercially viable energy generation technology. Such low-emissions technology could itself be ‘exported’ and replace the need for off-shored emissions through the mining sector.

There is also currently some concern that action on climate change rests solely with the government. Investments by the private sector made in emissions abatement technologies, energy efficiency, and green business practices can become models for climate action. It is important, the SES says, that the Australian government support the efforts of the country’s private sector in this regard, through developing incentives for distribution and sharing of knowledge across a range of platforms.

“It is hoped that the CCA will be able to provide a framework where industry can receive assurance through regular short-term targets that reflect the strong action required to keep atmospheric carbon below the levels considered dangerous for human interference in the climate system,” Harland said.