Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The truth about Rudd's carbon pollution target

Below, Tim Colebatch in today's Age looks at the numbers more diligently than anyone else will own up to doing.

He opens with Rudd's key quote from Monday:

"AUSTRALIA'S medium-term targets for reducing carbon pollution compare favourably with those of … the European Union.

"The EU's 20 per cent target announced over the weekend is equal to a 24 per cent reduction in emissions for each European from 1990 to 2020. Our 5 per cent unconditional target is equal to a 27 per cent reduction in carbon pollution for each Australian from 2000 to 2020 — and a 34 per cent reduction for each Australian from 1990.

"This is because Europe's population is not projected to grow between 1990 and 2020. By contrast, Australia's population is projected to grow by 45 per cent. If the Europeans were to adopt the same per capita effort as Australia is proposing, their cuts would be around 30 per cent by 2020."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Monday

It's the Rudd Government's favourite line against critics of its 5 per cent target for emissions cuts: in per capita terms, we're doing more than Europe is. The PM, Penny Wong and Wayne Swan use it every time.

But there are two things wrong with it. The smaller error is that their numbers are wrong — all of them!

The larger error is that they tell only a small part of the story, and the part they don't tell matters more.

First, the numbers. On the Bureau of Statistics' median estimate, Australia's population is on track to grow by 48 per cent between 1990 and 2020, not 45 — from 17.1 million back then to 25.3 million.

But Europe's population growth has also accelerated as migrants flood in...

Last year it added almost as many people as Australia has in the past decade. Its population is already 6 per cent bigger than in 1990. Eurostat projects 9 per cent growth by 2020, but that now looks conservative.

Europe's target in fact implies a cut in per capita emissions of 27 per cent or more.

That's still less than Australia. But PM, you know something? Australians now emit 2½ times as much greenhouse gas per capita as Europeans. So it's much easier to cut some of our fat.

In 2006, United Nations figures show, Australians emitted 26.1 tonnes per head of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, etc. Europeans emitted 10.4 million tonnes each — two tonnes for every five we emit.

If both achieve their lower 2020 targets, we will still emit almost twice as much gas per head as Europeans: 16.1 tonnes compared with 8.8 tonnes.

And if we kept on at that rate, by 2050 our emissions per head would be 10.6 tonnes — back where Europe was in 2005.

Take off that halo, PM: it doesn't fit.