International pressure, not national leadership, is driving Australian companies to aim for net zero

While the Nationals drag their heels over whether they will commit to Scott Morrison’s net zero by 2050 policy, Australia’s agriculture and mining sectors are already getting stuck-in to their own net zero targets.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C laid down a dire warning about the direction of our climate, and it seems that at least some of the major players in Australia are starting to get the message.

“All Australian states, businesses, agriculture, and more recently the mining industry have come to a resounding consensus that responsible targets for 2030 leading to net zero emissions by 2050 are not only essential, but in the national interest,” Emeritus Professor Snow Barlow from the University of Melbourne said, in an AusSMC expert reaction.

Prof Barlow has some experience with international climate negotiations. He was a member of the Australian delegation for Kyoto Protocol negotiations back at COP3 and COP4.

Prof Barlow says the Australian Government must step up with courage, leadership and vision for curbing climate change, saying that it’s “… a time to put aside entrenched political positions, dogma, and rhetoric in the interests of the nation and future generations”.

The move to net zero will impact many industries, mining among them, but some mining companies like BHP, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), and most recently Rio Tinto have already recently pledged to cut emissions.

Earlier this week, Rio Tinto updated its climate goals by pledging 10 billion dollars to cut net emissions by 15 per cent by 2025, and 50 per cent by 2030, with the ultimate goal of reaching net zero by 2050.

 “This is world best practice, and it has happened without Australian Government leadership.” Peter Newman from Curtin University told the AusSMC.

“The WA Government have a stated goal of net zero by 2050 but the major reason why mining companies are making these transformative commitments is that the global markets are demanding such change, especially the world of finance,” he said, emphasising the impact of global markets rather than national leadership in these decisions.

According to Prof Barlow, the agricultural sector is not to be outdone by the mining sector, with the National Farmers Federation establishing a net zero by 2050 target more than twelve months ago.

“As a major sustainable export industry agriculture has accepted the challenge to embrace the development of new technologies and systems to reach net zero in the clear expectation that its international market access may depend on its ability to demonstrate net zero in the future,” he said.

With some major mining companies and the agricultural sector already on board, perhaps the time really is now. 

According to Prof Newman, “The Australian Government is now seriously embarrassed on the global stage and must now try and play rapid catch-up or other parts of our economy will be seriously left behind.”

Read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction here.

This article originally appeared in Science Deadline, a weekly newsletter from the Australian Science Media Centre.

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