The Safeguards Mechanism (SGM) is an ineffective instrument for reducing emissions at the rate required to maximise humanity’s chances of preventing catastrophic runaway warming (https://www.climaterealitycheck.net/).
Australians can justifiably ask: what is the SGM actually safeguarding? Australians against 2ºC warming? Or emissions intensive businesses against an effective climate emergency response?
The SGM proposal is aligned to a Net Zero 2050 pathway and Labor’s legislated 43% emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030.
But the Net Zero 2050 pathway won’t stop warming at 2ºC, and has a 10% chance of pushing it past 3ºC (https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/_files/ugd/148cb0_714730d82bb84659a56c7da03fdca496.pdf ).
As an organisation, Flight Free Australia’s work focuses on communicating the climate impact of the aviation industry and how it can be reduced: our response therefore focuses on the domestic aviation sector.
Domestic aviation industry emissions reduction pathways compatible with the SGM, provide an illustration of its ineffectiveness in reducing emissions at the speed required.
Under the SGM …
- Minister Bowen’s promise is broken. He promised that there would be no offsetting of transport emissions under the Safeguards Mechanism (> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrHuhP_I4RU > Question on offsets 47 minutes in).
- Two thirds of aviation warming is not counted (> http://bit.ly/LeeNonCO2 ). For example, reported Qantas emissions of 4.2mT CO2e in 2018-19 were actually three times greater.
- Aviation emissions aren’t cut by offsetting flight emissions. It steals carbon drawdown urgently needed to cool an already dangerously hot planet, or allows new emissions equal to those we already need to avoid. In any event offsets have rarely if ever been demonstrated to work (> https://tempestsandterawatts.substack.com/p/almost-90-per-cent-of-australias > https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/18/revealed-forest-carbon-offsets-biggest-provider-worthless-verra-aoe > https://climate.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2017-04/clean_dev_mechanism_en.pdf > https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/airline-offsetting-distraction-policies-can-actually-reduce-emissions/ ).
- So-called “Sustainable” Aviation Fuels (SAF) don’t cut flight emissions. Their net “lifecycle” emissions allow ongoing aviation CO2 emissions. Any claimed CO2 reductions are just those stolen from that drawn down in growing the biofuel (> https://stay-grounded.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/SG_factsheet_8-21_Synthetic-E-fuels_print_FIN_A4_Korr.pdf ). SAF also creates non-CO2 emissions that are twice as warming as the CO2 stolen.
- Emissions reduction from fuel burn efficiencies are marginal to the reductions needed, have always historically been outweighed by growth in the fleet and APM, and won’t be realised until deployed across the global fleet in years to come, when climate safety requires deep reductions immediately.
- The 4.9% annual cut in emissions is nowhere near what’s needed. A 12% annual cut is required for even a 50% chance of holding warming to under 2ºC (> Timely responses to the climate emergency: what role for aviation? by Kevin Anderson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1ZxLWp0SH8 ).
- The SGM target for holding warming to 1.5ºC by 2050, is unrealistic to use as a guideline as even the Bureau of Meteorology expects us to pass this by next year. Given that, the SGM is even further unlikely to succeed. Warming will reach 1.5°C around 2030, irrespective of any emission reduction initiatives taken in the meantime, according to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Working Group 1 Summary for policymakers (Table SPM.1); and the UN Environment Program said there is no longer a credible path to holding warming below 1.5°C in the short term (without deploying immediate cooling interventions, which are nowhere on the policymaking agenda) (> http://www.climatecodered.org/2023/02/faster-higher-hotter-what-we-learned.html > https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/40874/EGR2022.pdf ).
The only way to stop actual, real warming emissions from domestic aviation rapidly enough to maximise humanity’s chances of preventing catastrophic runaway warming, is to reduce the number of flights to near zero as fast as possible.
Market mechanisms, like the Safeguard Mechanism, are not fit for purpose. We’re in a car speeding toward a precipice. Slowing down won’t prevent us going over the edge. We need to actually stop very quickly. Our future is now one of radical change whatever we do. Either we enact a never seen-before emergency response, or we succumb to climate chaos.
Grieving at the loss of our normal worldview is understandable. But, the sooner we get past denial to acceptance, the better off we will be. We can’t change the laws of physics but we can change the laws of the land. In an emergency we choose to stop doing “normal” and behave “abnormally” in order to get to safety.
23 February 2023