Emissions reduction in Australia 30 times too slow for Paris targets, ‘green growth’ a myth


Australia needs to be reducing emissions more than 30 times faster than it did from 2013 to 2019 to comply with the Paris Agreement, a paper published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal has found.

The study looked at 11 high-income countries which have claimed “absolute decoupling,” defined as decreasing CO2 emissions alongside increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Those nations include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. 

These countries are pursuing a “green growth” model – claiming they can reconcile economic growth with climate targets. Every one of the assessed nations was found to be reducing emissions orders of magnitude too slowly to limit global warming to well below 2°C.

Among the 11 countries examined, emission reductions between 2013 and 2019 were on average just 1.6% per year. By contrast, reduction rates of 30% per year are needed by 2025 for countries to comply with their fair-shares of the global carbon budget for 1.5°C.

Australia was found to be one of the worst-performing countries in the cohort, with the UK coming out on top.

“There is nothing green about economic growth in high-income countries,” lead author of the study, Jefim Vogel, from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, UK, said.

“Calling such highly insufficient emission reductions ‘green growth’ is misleading, it is essentially greenwashing. For growth to be legitimately considered ‘green’, it must be consistent with the climate targets and fairness principles of the Paris Agreement – but high-income countries have not achieved anything close to this, and are highly unlikely to achieve it in the future.”

“Continued economic growth in high-income countries is at odds with the twin goal of averting catastrophic climate breakdown and upholding fairness principles that protect development prospects in lower-income countries,” Vogel added.

Alarmingly, the researchers did not include emissions from agriculture, forestry, and land use, nor emissions from international aviation and shipping. If included, high-income countries would need to reduce emissions much faster again to comply with the Paris Agreement.

Researchers also took a lenient definition of ‘fair share’ of the carbon budget, using an approach that did not directly account for historical inequality in global emissions.

“The pursuit of economic growth in high-income countries makes it virtually impossible to achieve the required emission reductions. If high-income countries are to meet their Paris obligations, they should pursue post-growth approaches: scale down energy-intensive and less-necessary forms of production, reduce the consumption of the rich, shift from private cars to public transit. This reduces energy demand and enables us to decarbonise much faster,” co-author of the study Professor Jason Hickel from the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona said.

The authors suggested a range of steps to speed up emission reductions in fair and socially beneficial ways, including:

  • Shifting away from economic growth as a core objective, and instead prioritising ecological sustainability, wellbeing, and fairness as development objectives.
  • Scaling down carbon-intensive and unnecessary forms of production and consumption, including: SUVs, air travel, industrial meat and dairy, fast fashion, cruises, mansions, private jets.
  • Reducing inequalities in income and wealth (e.g. via wealth taxes and maximum income thresholds).
  • Insulating buildings, and repurposing buildings to minimise new builds.
  • Reducing food waste and shifting to agro-ecological farming techniques.
  • Introducing laws to lengthen product lifespans, and guarantee rights to repair.
  • Shifting away from private cars and improving public transit, bike systems and walkability.

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