Refreshed climate ambition from two key countries
In recent months, two key countries have sent revised nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the UNFCCC, notably my home country Australia and India. An NDC is a national submission to the UNFCCC outlining what steps that country will take in the near term (5-10 years) towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Australia might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, given its small population, but the new NDC seeks to change the national discussion on climate by setting an aggressively ambitious goal for 2030. This matters because Australia has often been cast as a laggard on reducing emissions, with the pace of change in that country having broader international implications politically than just domestic emissions at home. India is of course critical given it’s population and potential for significant use of fossil fuels to grow its economy over the coming decades.
- In the case of Australia, the government has pledged to reduce national emissions by 43% by 2030 against a 2005 baseline. This target is building towards a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The previous 2030 goal was a 26-28% reduction.
- In the case of India, the government has pledged to reduce Emissions Intensity of its GDP by 45 percent by 2030, from the 2005 level and to achieve about 50 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030, with the help of transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF). Both these elements of the NDC represent increases of some 10% points over the previous NDC. This represents the first major steps by India towards its goal of net-zero emissions in 2070, as Prime Minister Modi announce at COP26 in Glasgow.
These new NDCs are very welcome news, but how do they look when compared to an overall global decarbonisation scenario that limits warming to 1.5°C? Last year the Shell scenario team launched the Energy Transformation Scenarios, within which the Sky 1.5 scenario meets the Paris goal. The scenario includes data for Australia and India which provides an interesting comparison to the revised NDC announcements.
For Australia in Sky 1.5, the period from the late 2020s to 2035 is the inflection point for a rapid fall in emissions, but the actual scenario reduction in 2030 (23% fall), relative to 2005, does not match the ambition of the new Australian goal (43% fall). However by 2035 Sky 1.5 exceeds the revised 2030 goal (45%), hence the description of this period being an inflection point. It would appear that the government has matched the stretching ambition of COP26 in Glasgow with a similar stretching goal for Australia, which is commendable. However, even at 23% in 2030, significant change is required. For example, when comparing Sky 1.5 in 2030 to 2020, there is nearly five times the solar energy generated and over triple the electricity coming from wind. In Sky 1.5 electric passenger vehicles (EV) deliver over a quarter of the kilometres driven in 2030, which implies that by the late 2020s most sales in Australia are EV. Australia has long been a leader in managing land use towards greater carbon uptake using carbon markets, but even in this domain it will have its work cut out. By the late 2040s in Sky 1.5 it is land use change that delivers net-zero emissions overall, with fossil fuel emissions taking two decades more to reach net-zero in combination with carbon capture and storage.
The shift in primary energy required in Australia to underpin such a change is profound. Solar PV becomes the dominant source.
For India, the new NDC pledges represent an important first step towards their journey to net-zero emissions in 2070. Sky 1.5 also achieves this goal in 2070, but India needs to make large scale use of carbon capture and storage to do so.
In terms of emissions as a function of GDP, the chart above translates to a reduction of 36% in CO2 per GDP by 2030 and 43% by 2035, which places India’s revised goal of 45% as quite stretching for which they should be thanked. This is based on the GDP assumptions underpinning Sky 1.5 and an analysis of potential land use change opportunities in India, so it may also be the case that the revised India NDC is assuming a higher GDP growth than Sky 1.5. Nevertheless, to achieve such an outcome India needs to continue its economic growth while introducing large scale change in the power sector. In Sky 1.5 the share of non-fossil generating capacity in 2030 is above 50% and over 60% in 2035, which is in the same range as the revised India goal. That compares with 21% in 2020.
In these times of uncertainty with regards energy security and energy costs, it is commendable that nations are building on the commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow with real action and therefore taking steps to increase the ambition of their NDCs.