Global carbon pollution levels must fall by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent the world’s climate from overheating and seriously damaging ecosystems, economies and communities.
The amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in Earth’s atmosphere has been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution started in the mid to late eighteenth century.
The concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from about 280 parts per million (ppm) in the late 1700s to about 391 ppm today, and continues to rise by about 2 ppm each year.
Scientists predict that without very significant cuts in global carbon pollution, carbon dioxide levels will continue to increase to between 450 ppm and 650 ppm between the middle and end of this century.
Computer models of the future climate indicate these levels of greenhouse gases would increase global average air temperatures by perhaps three to four degrees Celsius, with much larger temperature increases in some regions, such as in the Arctic.
Such changes would have dramatic consequences for the world’s ecosystems and species, our economy and human health and wellbeing.
Climate change impacts in the Territory
In the Northern Territory, climate change will affect our health, our homes, infrastructure, ecosystems and species.
The CSIRO estimates that on current global carbon pollution trajectories, the number of days that Darwin experiences air temperatures above 35oC will rise from the current 11 days to up to 69 by 2030 and up to 308 by 2070.
These hotter temperatures, together with humid weather, is likely to make it harder for people with impaired health, and those less able to afford to adapt of shelter from the changing climate.
Higher temperatures will make it harder for land managers to control wildfires, causing greater risks to the safety of firefights and the wider community.
A rise in sea levels of 1.1 metres would place at risk of inundation several hundred buildings in Darwin, and over 2000 kilometres of roads. Sea levels in Darwin Harbour have been rising at an average 7mm per year for the past 20 years.
Warming of the Arafura and Timor Seas, and Gulf of Carpentaria, is predicted to cause more damaging cyclones and storm surges around the Top End.
Cutting carbon pollution in the Territory
The Northern Territory’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita, at well over twice the national average, are the highest of any state or territory.
Carbon pollution levels in the Territory were estimated to be 17.3 million tonnes in 2007, which is a 62% increase above emissions of approximately 10 million tonnes in 1990, the base year for the Kyoto Protocol.
So, applying the recommendations of climate scientists that cuts of between 25% and 50% of global carbon pollution levels below 1990 is required by 2020, this would require the Territory’s emissions to fall to between 6 and 8 million tonnes p.a. by the end of this decade.
But the Climate Change policies of Territory Labor and the Country Liberals fail to commit to cutting the Territory’s carbon pollution levels by 2020. While both parties’ policies commit to cuts of 60% by 2050, carbon pollution levels are expected to increase by 50% to 75% by 2020 due to increased burning of fossil fuels.
The largest contributor of carbon pollution is savanna burning, followed by stationary energy.
The Environment Centre NT urges both parties to commit to stabilizing and cutting carbon pollution to under eight million tonnes p.a. by 2020 through:
- Supporting emissions trading that caps national carbon pollution levels by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020,
- Adopting stricter energy efficiency standards for all new homes, offices and industrial buildings,
- Subsiding smart meters and other innovative technologies for Territorians to save on their power bills and cut energy use,
- Mandating all new large developments in the Territory be carbon neutral, through placing conditions on development approvals that require developers to purchase carbon offsets equivalent to the balance between the project’s emissions and the emissions covered by permits issued under the national cap-and-trade scheme,
- Requiring existing and new mines to source energy from renewable energy power plants,
- Investing in large scale solar power plants to power the Darwin-to-Katherine electricity grid, such as by subsidising Power and Water Corporation to build such plants or purchase solar power from other energy companies,
- Enforcing weed management laws that require landholders to eradicate weeds that increase fuel loads which create hotter wildfires,
- Supporting the carbon economy in the Territory by requiring polluters to invest in carbon offsets generated locally, such as by
- supporting Indigenous fire abatement,
- paying pastoralists to protect young native vegetation that is re-growing after being previously bulldozed,
- paying pastoralists, farmers, Indigenous communities and conservation organisations to plant native trees on cleared lands, such as in the Daly River catchment,
- funding improved energy efficiency in homes, offices and industrial buildings,
- paying Indigenous Rangers and natural resource management bodies to eradicate and control weeds that increase fuel loads and create hot wildfires, such as gamba grass and buffel grass,
- pay Indigenous Rangers and contractors to shoot feral animals such as camels and wild horses that damage native vegetation and the soil, hence reducing carbon stores, and which release methane.