CPRS legislation off target

Carbon pollution reduction scheme needs to ensure reduced emissions.
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  • Updated:8 Mar 2009

01.The issue

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

In brief

  • The voluntary purchase of government-accredited renewable energy (GreenPower) or domestic carbon offsets helps Australia to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but doesn't help us exceed targets that would have been achieved without our actions.
  • Unless changes are made, from 2010, those and other voluntary actions to reduce emissions will make it easier and cheaper for big industry to pollute more. The federal government should urgently address this issue.

In Australia, hundreds of thousands of households are paying extra money for renewable energy such as green power and solar panels that helps Australia to achieve its carbon emission reduction targets, but doesn’t go beyond that to which the federal government has already committed. Since Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, voluntary efforts to reduce our carbon footprint are not “additional” to the greenhouse emission reductions that Australia, as a whole, is required to achieve.

And even more worryingly, the new Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme could result in many of our individual efforts to reduce emissions enabling big industry to pollute more, with overall emissions staying the same as they would without our efforts.

Consumers subsidising polluters

When Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in late 2007, a new mandatory target was set to restrict our national emissions to 108% of their 1990 levels. But since the beginning of 2008, many voluntary actions households take to reduce emissions are counted towards that mandatory target.

So if you pay for renewable energy to offset your household’s annual electricity use, the resulting emission reductions are counted by the government towards the national target. Similarly, if you buy Australian carbon offsets, the emissions saved by those actions count towards the legally binding targets.

From bad to worse

This problem will soon be exacerbated by the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) legislation, draft details of which were released in a December 2008 white paper. The CPRS is the primary mechanism to achieve the mandatory Kyoto emission reductions and other long-term targets beyond 2012. The government will give away and auction emissions “permits” that restrict large businesses’ pollution to certain levels. Under the scheme, Australia has committed to a medium-term national emissions-reduction target of 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 (15% if an international agreement comes into place), and a long-term target of 60% emissions reduction below 2000 levels by 2050. The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to 20% of our energy being produced from renewable sources by 2020.

While there’s still some hope of a reprieve (see You can help), consensus is growing that after the CPRS is introduced, most voluntary actions – including buying GreenPower, installing solar panels or using less electricity – won’t result in additional emissions reductions beyond the binding targets. In other words, consumers are disempowered - our direct actions to to reduce greenhouse emissions are ineffective. “Nothing households do to reduce their use of fossil fuels will reduce Australia's emissions by one kilogram,” says Richard Denniss of The Australia Institute, a think tank. “Under this scheme any emission reductions achieved by Australian households will actually allow the big polluters to increase their emissions by an equivalent amount.”

"The signing of the Kyoto Protocol and announcement of the CPRS has rendered all voluntary action since the beginning of 2008 ineffective and non-additional to the mandated targets,” the Carbon Reduction Institute wrote in a submission following the CPRS Green Paper. Even the Department of Climate Change confirmed that while buying GreenPower increases the amount of energy produced from renewable sources, it will not change total greenhouse gas emissions from sources that are covered and capped by the CPRS.

CHOICE Verdict

CHOICE wants voluntary actions by consumers to be counted as additional to the mandatory emissions reductions, so such efforts make a real difference. Otherwise, supporting initiatives such as GreenPower, energy conservation, using energy efficient products, the installation of solar panels, solar hot water systems and using other alternative energy sources won’t make real additional greenhouse gas reductions.

Additional actions by households should result in permits to pollute being taken out of circulation. You can help by joining the call for stronger emission reduction targets. Go to GreenPower: Keep it real.



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