What is a carbon emission target?

Simply put, an emissions target is a target that a country works towards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This target is worked towards through relevant policy and funding by the government.

It’s also important to note that countries do not have the same targets. The overall aim of reducing emissions is the same with each country, but each nation has its own percentage and goals, which are all different, and influenced by varying factors. 

Let’s take a step back, what are carbon emissions? 

Carbon emissions = release of carbon into the atmosphere, and when we talk about carbon emissions, we’re talking about greenhouse gas emissions. 

Greenhouse gases are gases (shock) that cause damage to the environment and contribute to climate change by trapping heat. Greenhouse gases cause health issues as well, such as respiratory disease from smog and air pollution. Other effects of greenhouse gases include: 

  • Extreme weather 
  • Food supply disruptions 
  • Increased wildfires 

Back to the targets, what does an example look like? 

Let’s take Australia’s target for 2030: 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The policies that the current Morrison Government is implementing in order to achieve the target include: 

  • A National Energy Productivity Plan, developed with the Council of Australian Governments’ Energy Ministers
  • Improving the efficiency of vehicles
  • Phasing down hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigerators and air conditioners
  • Developing a strategy to improve the utilisation of solar power
  • Developing a low emissions technology roadmap

However recently, Australia has received increased criticism of its targets. Labor’s former longtime climate spokesperson Mark Butler said, “Scott Morrison’s 26% emissions reduction target is completely inadequate and in line with more than 3C of warming”. Professor Frank Jotzo, the director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University was also critical of Australia’s efforts, “the basic fact is that developed countries are expected to take on stronger 2030 targets and Australia has not done so and that will no doubt provoke criticism.”

What is net-zero? 

Another phrase you might see floating around the news is an emissions target that is being adopted by nations is something called ‘net-zero’. Think of net-zero like a scale, it’s the balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions are taken out of the atmosphere. Getting to net-zero means a country can still produce emissions, but it must offset emissions in processes that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere (that’s the difference between zero and net-zero). Processes of removing emissions can look like planting new forests, or drawdown technologies like direct air capture. Recently, a net-zero target was adopted by the U.S. who made a target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Australia has been encouraged by politicians, experts and other countries to work towards net-zero, however, the Morrison Government has yet to commit to a target. Every state and territory in the country has committed to net-zero, however.

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