Australia can’t meet emissions targets with mass immigration

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quizzed by the media on whether the government intended to meet Australia’s emissions targets as laid-out under the Paris Agreement, and promised to go even further:

Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris Agreement.

“It is my intention to meet and beat that target,” Mr Morrison told the public broadcaster.

“In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down traditional industries.”

Asked whether he was open to moving the existing target, he said: “What I’m saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it.”

Let’s cut the bull. Australia will never meet its emissions target while it continues to grow its population by around one million people every three years via mass immigration.

As shown in the next chart, which plots the ABS’ medium (Panel B) population projections, Australia’s population will hit around 43 million people by 2066, 17.5 million more than what would occur under zero net overseas migration (NOM):

That’s an enormous number of extra people consuming resources and emitting greenhouse gasses. It also means that Australia would need to cut its per capita emissions by around two-thirds just to keep total emissions at current levels (other things equal), let alone reduce them.

Don’t just take my word for it. Last year, lecturers at Deakin University also laid bare the impossibility of Australia meeting its emissions target:

In signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the Australian government committed to a global goal of zero net emissions by 2050. Australia’s promised reductions to 2030, on a per person and emissions intensity basis, exceed even the targets set by the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the European Union.

But are we on the right track to achieve our 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels? With one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world, this represents at least a 50% reduction in emissions per person over the next dozen years.

Consider the impact of one sector, the built environment. The construction, operation and maintenance of buildings accounts for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. As Australia’s population grows, to an estimated 31 million in 2030, even more buildings will be needed.

In 2017, around 18,000 dwelling units were approved for construction every month. Melbourne is predicted to need another 720,000 homes by 2031; Sydney, 664,000 new homes within 20 years. Australia will have 10 million residential units by 2020, compared to 6 million in 1990…

In May 2018, a University of Adelaide-led study entitled Implications of Australia’s Population Policy for Future Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets noted the direct (obvious) link between population size, emissions and environmental degradation:

It is clear from our demographic modelling and the available data on net overseas migrants that Australia’s future population is entirely contingent on its immigration policies… The current demographic state of the Australian population is such that if all net immigration were halted today, the population would stabilize by the mid-2040s and decline only slightly thereafter, achieving nearly the same population size that it is today by mid-century…

Whether Australians choose to limit their future population growth is entirely another matter. The country’s natural systems have already suffered severe degradation of ecosystems…

In this context, any policy that seeks an even larger Australian population would need to be carefully focused on how to achieve this goal sustainably, while mitigating (and, in some situations, reversing) these threatening processes. Given the rising environmental damage globally from a large and growing human population (Bradshaw & Brook 2014), Australia has the rare option to limit this damage by adjusting its immigration policies accordingly…

Based on current population policies, the projected growth in the Australian population will make its already challenging future emissions-reduction goals even more difficult to achieve. In addition to the rising pressure of Australia’s population on its ecosystems, the country’s future greenhouse gas emissions are also partially tied to its immigration policy…

With a 2020 target of 5 per cent reduction in emissions (relative to 2000), a 27 per cent reduction by 2030 (relative to 2005) and potentially an 80 per cent reduction by 2050, Australia has no credible mechanisms in place to achieve these goals… it seems unlikely that Australia will be able to achieve either of these two targets without substantial policy changes across population, energy, agriculture and environmental sectors.

Given that Australia has less than 14 years to meet the 2030 target, and less than 34 years to meet the putative 2050 target, and that a reduction in per capita emissions of 83.5 per cent would still be required even under the extreme scenario of no net migration…

Irrespective of these challenges, any increase in Australia’s population will make these targets even more difficult, such that a business-as-usual projection (scenario 1) would require a fivefold greater reduction in per capita emissions to reach a 2050 target of 80 per cent reduction compared with the zero-immigration scenario and produce ~10 per cent more emissions…

More population growth driven by immigration will hamper Australia’s ability to meet its future climate change mitigation commitments and worsen its already stressed ecosystems, unless a massive technological transformation of Australia’s energy sector is immediately forthcoming.

And let’s not forget that it’s not just Australia’s emissions that are being made worse via never-ending mass immigration, but also the destruction of Australia’s natural habitat. Let’s recall what the latest federal government State of the Environment report said on the matter, via The Conversation:

Australia’s population growth and economic activity continue to pose major environmental challenges, according to a comprehensive five-yearly stocktake of the country’s environmental health.

The federal government’s State of the Environment 2016 report (prepared by a group of independent experts, which I chaired), released today, predicts that population growth and economic development will be the main drivers of environmental problems such as land-use change, habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change…

We continue to lose agricultural lands through urban encroachment. Over the past five years land-clearing rates stabilised in all states and territories except Queensland, where the rate of clearing increased.

Coastal waterways are threatened by pollutants, including microplastics and nanoparticles…

Population growth in our major cities, along with Australia’s reliance on private cars, is leading to greater traffic volumes, which increase traffic congestion and delays as well as pollution…

While Australia’s emissions undoubtedly depends on many factors – including our energy use patterns, exports, and how we live – nobody can deny the fact that Australia’s mass immigration policy will make it next to impossible to meet our targets nor safeguard Australia’s environment.

Australia needs to support the Paris Agreement on emissions reduction if it expects other nations to do so. Yet, immigration-fuelled population growth is clearly threatening our ability to meet these targets. This is an indisputable fact ignored by the commentariat.

Leith van Onselen
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