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Key Greenhouse Response Strategy in Energy and Transport for Australia: A Discussion Paper

By Mark Diesendorf - posted Sunday, 15 October 2000

With the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled for mid-November and with the recent announcement that Australia’s 1998 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached 17% above the 1990 level, it is time to examine options for making serious reductions in Australia's emissions. This paper proposes a broad strategy and some key specific actions for federal, state and local governments to reduce substantially GHG emissions from the Australian energy and transport sectors.

Further work is required to estimate the magnitude of the greenhouse gas reductions; the economic, social and other environmental benefits; and the economic costs of the actions proposed in this paper.

Targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions


The proposed short-term and medium-term targets are:

  1. stabilisation of GHG emission at 108% of 1990 levels by 2010; and
  2. reduction to 50% by 2030.

Modelling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that, to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of GHG, emissions by the rich countries may have to be reduced to 10-20% of 1990 levels by some time in the second half of the 21st century. Based on continuing improvements to existing technologies, such a long-term target is technically feasible, although it appears to be very expensive at present. However, by the time the 50% target is achieved, the technologies required for a 10-20% target may be already cost-effective.


The aim is to implement institutions, practices and technologies that will enable short-term and long-term GHG reductions to be achieved simultaneously. This contrasts with the apparent policy of the federal government to place the main emphasis on short-term measures with limited long-term potential for reducing GHG emissions.

The overall strategy for achieving the 2010 and 2030 targets is quite simple to state, although some measures will be politically difficult to implement. In general, the economic savings achieved by substantial increases in the efficiency of energy use and the removal of subsidies to inefficient energy use will be used to fund the transition to an energy supply system based on a mix of renewable energy and natural gas sources for electricity and heating/cooling. New institutions will be required to ensure that the economic savings are actually used to fund the cost of the transition.


It should be emphasised that the targets cannot be achieved by individual actions alone. There is little point in exhorting people who live in areas where there is inadequate public transport and long distances to travel to forego using cars; or exhorting people who live in poorly insulated rental accommodation to do without electric radiators and convectors. Since market failure is endemic for environmentally sound practices in the energy sector, the community must insist that governments assist the transition by removing the barriers and providing appropriate infrastructure, laws, institutions, planning processes, pricing signals, funding and education/information.

Actions proposed for achieving targets

The following proposed actions contain both short-term and long-term measures. The numbering is for ease of reference and does not reflect priority.

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This is an edited extract of Mark Diesendorf's paper. The author welcomes feedback and discussion of the full paper, which can be viewed on the ISF website. Please also direct any discussion to our forum.

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About the Author

Dr Mark Diesendorf is Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW. Previously, at various times, he was a Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO, Professor of Environmental Science at UTS and Director of Sustainability Centre Pty Ltd. He is author of about 80 scholarly papers and the book Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy. His latest book is Climate Action: A campaign manual for greenhouse solutions (UNSW Press, 2009).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Mark Diesendorf
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Department of Environment and Heritage
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Institute for Sustainable Futures
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