The easiest and cheapest ways of reducing Australia’s greenhouse pollution are slipping by due to delayed action on climate change, a new report reveals today.

New data from Climateworks Australia shows that delaying action on climate change to 2015 would increase by $5.5 billion the cost for businesses and households of reaching Australia’s 5 per cent reduction in 2020—the minimum bipartisan commitment.

Climateworks Executive Director, Anna Skarbek said it was disturbing that just one year after identifying 54 opportunities to reduce emissions at least cost, Australia had gone backwards, with emissions rising. 

“We’ve already lost energy savings for households and businesses that will be worth $260 million in 2020 by not taking up in the last year the least cost opportunities identified in the Low Carbon Growth Plan for Australia—$5 million per week of delay. This happened because we missed opportunities such as shifting to more efficient new vehicles and replacing old appliances by best-in-class energy saving equipment in commercial or residential buildings.”

“With each year of delay, more opportunities are lost or become harder and more expensive to catch up. For example, accelerating tree planting or new technology deployment can only be done up to a certain point without significantly increasing costs and risks,” she said. 

“The situation is even more critical when talking about the 25 per cent reduction target, which is the minimum advised by climate scientists. There is now a deficit of abatement opportunities to reach that target, and this deficit will grow fast with every year of delay. Innovation will be key in making up for the missed opportunities.”

The 2011 update of the Low Carbon Growth Plan for Australia also found: 

  • By the end of 2011, the potential to avoid 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent —equal to taking 1 million cars off the road—will be lost and this would rise to 85 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, more than the total emissions from the transport sector today. 
  • Meeting Australia’s 5 per cent reduction target by 2020 is achievable entirely within Australia using technologies available today and through opportunities below $32/tCO2e.
  • A carbon price of $20 to $30/tCO2e in 2013 would vastly increase the volume of actions that are profitable to undertake to reduce emissions, respectively doubling or nearly tripling it. This would mean 84% of what’s needed to achieve the 5% target in Australia would be profitable for investors.
  • Already there are savings available from reducing emissions through energy efficiency: this would save $5.1 billion per annum by 2020 for households and businesses if we start now.

Ms Skarbek said a loss of low cost opportunities meant a carbon price would be even more necessary to deliver the majority of abatement opportunities.

“A carbon price will increase the incentive for business to invest in emissions reduction so most of the abatement could occur in Australia. It will also drive new solutions that can help bring down future costs and help fill the growing deficit towards the 25% per cent reduction target,” she said. 

“The good news is we can still reach our reduction targets at a low cost if we start acting today. If we don’t act before 2015, we will have lost potential energy savings for Australian households and businesses, worth $1.5 billion per annum in lower energy bills.”