What is a baseline year and why does it matter?

20.07.15 By

An emission reduction target’s baseline year can seem like a trivial detail, but may mean the difference between an ambitious goal and an unacceptable one. So what is it?

Well, a baseline year is a reference point in time against which emission reductions in the future are measured. And emission targets are very sensitive to the baseline year chosen.

For example, Australia currently has an emission reduction target of 5% by 2020 compared to 2000 levels. As 2005 was an unusually high year for Australia’s emissions, if 2005 were to be used as a baseline, the same emission reduction target becomes a 13% reduction. If 2010 is used, the equivalent would be an 8% reduction target.

So you can see why the baseline year is so important: because it can essentially create the impression of more (or less) effort, when in fact the actual amount of emissions reduced is exactly the same.