Is Australia acting ahead of others?
People often ask why should Australia act to reduce their carbon pollution when other countries are not. The reality is that many other countries have already made huge steps towards reducing their carbon output, and that includes developing nations like China. Countries have started this transformation to take advantage of the economic opportunities stemming from the next stage of global development that will be powered by clean energy. We are starting to see the emergence of more and more solar power projects around the globe in addition to the already large number of projects underway for wind power. The clear trend is undeniably towards clean and renewable energy sources.
A broad range of countries have introduced, or are planning, market based emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. Australia’s top five trading partners—China, Japan, the United States (US), the Republic of Korea and India—and another six of our top twenty trading partners (New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands) have implemented or are piloting carbon trading or taxation schemes at national, state or the city level. Many countries have renewable energy targets, including fourteen of Australia’s top twenty trading partners. Energy performance standards for appliances, buildings and industrial plants, as well as incentives for the use and development of low emission products and technologies are now widespread.
In fact, China has pledged to quadruple its current investment of almost $50 billion per year on renewables with the aim of reaching a total of 500GW of renewable energy output by 2020. Right now, China already has 44.7GW of wind energy production (we have a little more than 1Gw). In fact, of all energy infrastructure built in China over the course of 2010, 26% of it is renewable!
The European Union enacted an emissions trading scheme in 2005 which places a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that can be emitted by big polluters. It operates in the 27 EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and covers power stations, combustion plants, oil refineries and iron and steel works, as well as factories making cement, glass, lime, bricks, ceramics, pulp, paper and board. Their current target is a 21% cut of 2005 emissions by 2025 (Australia’s is a 5% cut of 2000 emissions by 2020). Some EU nations have pledged even greater cuts to their emissions. The UK, for example, has pledged to cut 50% of its 1990-level emissions by 2025.
The US has its own cap and trade legislation in the works, although this has stalled in the Senate due to big Republican wins in the mid-term elections. Nevertheless, many US states have taken steps to implement their own strategies to cut their carbon output. California, aside from providing massive incentives to renewable energy companies, has implemented its own cap and trade regime (although this has been delayed for a year to ensure compliance). The New York governor in 2009 signed an executive order, pledging an 80% cut of 1990 emissions by 2050 (our target is an 80% cut of 2000 emissions by 2050). Many more states have taken steps to reduce their carbon output, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive list here.