Australia lags on climate change action

Overnight, 40 of the world’s leaders met to address climate change in an online summit hosted by the US. Under new President Joe Biden, the US is committed to returning to the Paris climate agreement, which the previous US administration had abandoned.

President Biden plans to cut emissions by 50–52% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Addressing his fellow leaders at the start of the summit, he stated this was “a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”

Australia was also represented at the summit, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterating an old commitment to a 26–28% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, based on 2005 levels. He also emphasised the importance of investments in hydrogen power, along with carbon capture and storage.

The New York Times asked if President Biden’s goal stacked up globally, and compared it to emissions-cuts pledges from six developed nations (or unions). At a 52% reduction, the US runs second to Britain’s pledged -63%. At -28%, Australia languishes in sixth place, with Japan (-44%), Canada (-45%) and the European Union (-51%) ahead of it.

Australian scientists and academics were largely unimpressed with PM Morrison’s presence.

“Our national government is failing to play a responsible role in the concerted global effort to slow climate change,” says Ian Lowe, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, and former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

“[O]ur stated target of 26–28% is woefully inadequate. More seriously, no qualified independent expert thinks that inadequate target will be achieved on current trends. The Commonwealth government is still irresponsibly supporting new fossil fuel developments, not just individual projects like Adani but whole new provinces like the Beetaloo Basin gas field.”

Ben Neville, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne, adds that the government’s climate policy is at odds with the country’s businesses.

“While publicly the government has been making a case that their relative inaction has been to protect the national economic interest, the Australian business community has become increasingly clear about supporting positive action,” Neville says.

“The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group both support strong action on climate […] Perhaps the most implicitly confrontational action has been the commitment by the Climate League 2030, a grouping of Australian super and investment firms with close to $1 trillion under management, to influence the firms they have invested in to reduce their emissions sufficiently to meet a 45% national reduction by 2030, in line with reaching net zero by 2050. They have judged the government’s 26–28% reduction to be wholly inadequate and are using their market power to trump government climate policy.”

Earlier this month, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported CO2 levels in the atmosphere at a record 421 parts per million – more than 140 ppm above the accepted pre-industrial-era atmospheric CO2 level of 280 ppm.

In response, Professor Mark Howden, the director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University, told the ABC: “The difference between the warm periods on Earth and the cold periods on Earth is 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide.

“What we’ve already done to the atmosphere is proportional to the change that’s associated with an ice age. And an ice age fundamentally changes the face of the Earth.”

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