Below is a brief outline of some of the major national and international milestones aimed at addressing climate change in the last two decades.
In 1997, the world came together to look for a solution to tackle global warming. The result was the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding international agreement created under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Kyoto, Japan.
The aim of the Kyoto Protocol was to reduce the collective greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized countries who were party to the agreement by at least 5% below the 1990 levels. This was to occur during the first commitment period (2008-2012). The six greenhouse gases targeted for reduction were carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs and PFCs.
In 2007, Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol. This came into effect on 11 March 2008. Although not all are party to the Kyoto Protocol, currently there are 90 countries responsible for over 80 per cent of global emissions that have made international pledges to limit their emissions under the UNFCCC.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued three reports on climate change in 2014. The first report highlighted the fact that climate change is not a product of natural temperature fluctuations but rather a product of man-made interventions. The second report outlined the dangerous implications of climate change for people and countries around the world. In this report, the IPCC stated that global warming could produce effects which are “severe”, “pervasive” and “irreversible”. The third report argued that the current trends on the use of fossil fuels resulting in carbon emissions would only be mitigated effectively if there was to be a shift towards renewable energy.
An international UN sponsored conference on climate change is to be held in Paris in December 2015 with a view to reaching common ground worldwide. Different nations will present their emission reduction schemes and plans to implement these by 2020.
Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET):
In reaction to Kyoto Protocol the Australian Government introduced the Renewable Energy Act 2000 which commenced its operation in April 2001. This legislation requires the large electricity purchasers, wholesalers and retailers to source an additional 2% of their electricity purchases from renewable energy producers by 2010. The MRET aim was to increase the use of renewable energy in Australia from 11% to 13% by 2010. This would be 9500 Giga Watt Hour (GWH) of renewable electricity per year by 2010. The result of this would be reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 7.3 million tonnes per year. There was also a financial penalty for non- compliers to this Act.
Renewable Energy Targets in Australia
Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET)
Against the background of the Kyoto Protocol, the Australian Government introduced the Renewable Energy Act 2000 which commenced in April 2001. This legislation required large electricity purchasers, wholesalers and retailers to source an additional 2% of their electricity from renewable energy producers by 2010. The MRET aimed to increase the use of renewable energy in Australia from 11% to 13% by 2010, equating to an extra 9500 gigawatt hours (GWH). This would have resulted in a further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 7.3 million tonnes per year and was in addition to the target of 15,000 GWH already in place. Financial penalties for non-compliance formed part of the Act.
Renewable Energy Target (RET):
In August 2009, a Bill passed in the Australian parliament amending and expanding the existing MRET. It replaced various existing and proposed state and territory schemes with one national scheme, the RET. Under the RET, the renewable energy contribution was to increase from 9,500 GWH in 2010 (under MRET) to 45,000 GWH in 2020. This was on top of the 15,000 GWH previously in place.
Wind was to be the main contributor to the growth in renewable energy, supported by other renewable resources including solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal and biomass.
Enhanced Renewable Energy Target (eRET):
In 2011, changes were made to the RET to improve the scheme and provide more certainty for investment in large scale renewable projects as well as households. Subsequently, the RET scheme was divided into two parts: the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) and the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). Initially, of the 45,000 GWH target by 2020, 4,000 GWH had been allocated for SRES and 41,000 GWH for LRET.
The scheme was the subject of significant social discussion and parliamentary debate. In June 2015, the Federal Government and the Opposition reached a bipartisan agreement on the LRET level of 33,000 GWH by 2020 which was subsequently legislated in parliament.