Climate change: Australia is shaping up to be the villain of COP26 talks in Glasgow

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, told CNN: “Of all the developed countries, Australia has the worst position in terms of climate. It is clear that Australia will be absent, essentially, in the negotiations”.

“They were quite content with the role of the United States until last year, and of course now they seem to be the last one standing in front of the Western countries to stop progress,” he said, referring to the absence of the United States. of the United States in the global climate. effort during the Trump years.

The UK has also been criticized for bowing to Australia in the countries’ bilateral trade deal, where explicit mention of stopping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius appears to have been dropped. . However, a British official close to the negotiations ahead of COP26 said that the UK had been consistent in its message to the Australian government to take the crisis more seriously.

Part of that message included refusing to give Morrison a spot to speak at last December’s Climate Ambition Summit, an event hosted by the UK’s COP26 president, the United Nations and France organized.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on June 15, 2021, after the two countries reached a trade deal.

More than 70 leaders attended and spoke, and many announced commitments to improve emissions reductions, known as Nationally Defined Contributions (NDCs). Australia has no new NDCs to announce, and still doesn’t, because it missed the July 31 deadline set out by the Paris Agreement.

“Last December we had a little bit more run time, so we’re keeping very, very high, and you really have to earn money to be able to talk,” the UK official said.

“They’re a developed country, they’ve got enormous capacity, and they’re being ravaged by climate change, quite frankly, and we’ve been pretty strict about that. They didn’t go on for long. .. term strategy.”

Some delegates are increasingly concerned that Australia could hold back progress at the COP26 negotiations in key areas. Sharma, also a British MP, has said he wants the world to set an end date for coal at the conference and push nations to refocus on their pledge to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees. relative to the pre-industrial level.

The Paris Agreement forces signatories to try to keep temperatures at 2 degrees, with a preference near 1.5 degrees, but more and more governments are accepting that the world should move towards 1.5. Scientists consider 2 degrees to be an important threshold for many ecosystems on Earth.

Australia's Scott Morrison does not deny pressuring the UK for the climate reductions demanded from the trade deal

But comments over the past week from Australia’s leaders suggest they will push back both coal and 1.5.

“We should increase the pressure on partners like Australia,” Peter Liese, a European Union member from Germany, told CNN. He added he would raise the “challenge” of Australia’s climate inactivity in the European Parliament as an issue.

He also said the logic behind Australia’s policy was difficult to understand.

“There’s a general reluctance in Australia to commit to ambitious climate goals, and it’s quite embarrassing for that country because it’s already suffered so much of the impacts of climate change.”

Australia experienced devastating bushfires in 2019-20, events that scientists say are more likely due to anthropogenic climate change.
The United Nations Modern Climate Science Report shows that Australia has experienced more extreme heat and sea level rise above the global average because of climate change. Temperatures, sea level rise and drought are all expected to increase in Australia as the Earth warms.
A firefighter in Tumburumba, Australia on January 11, 2020.

Australia overtakes China in net zero

Australia has committed to a 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels, a commitment much lower than that of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, among other countries. other developers.

For example, US President Joe Biden increased his country’s pledge in April to reduce emissions by 50% to 52% in the same time frame.

The Australian Climate Council, an organization independent of the government, has suggested the country should reduce emissions by 75% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, to prevent global warming at 1.5 degrees.

Instead of focusing on immediate emissions reductions, the government has framed the climate response around “technology, not taxes”, saying it will essentially transition to renewables when it become cheaper.

The Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER), the agency that oversees climate policy, said in a statement to CNN on Monday.

It reiterated plans to continue exporting coal to still-developing countries, including China, India and South Korea. “Australia has an important role to play in meeting that need,” it added.

The Australian government last December technically “updated” its NDC, as the Paris Agreement was obliged to do by the July 31 deadline, but it did not actually increase its emissions-cutting target. The purpose of the deadline is for countries to raise their climate ambitions.

DISER told CNN it will come up with a long-term climate strategy ahead of COP26. “Australia will make its position in due time,” it said.

The country’s current commitments don’t even put it on track to meet requirements to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5, according to the Climate Action Monitor, a group that monitors climate policies around the world.

The watchdog said that if the whole world followed Australia’s policy, temperatures would rise by 2 to 3 degrees.

And although Australia says it’s better to be carbon neutral by mid-century, it’s one of the only developed nations that hasn’t really committed to it. Even China, widely seen as a barrier to international climate progress, has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060.

A spokesperson for the European Union told CNN that the bloc hopes Australia’s “ambition to reach net zero ‘as soon as possible’ could be turned into a net zero target by 2050.”

Strong Fossil Fuel Lobbying

Part of what is holding Australia back is the power with which companies use fossil fuels in the country. Australia is the second largest coal exporter in the world, after Indonesia.

According to Pitt, Australian Minister of Resources, coal brought in about $50 billion in exports and over $3 billion in royalties in the last financial year, and provides direct employment to more than 50,000 Australians, and supports the work of many others.
More 60% of the country’s electricity is generated from coal last year. In the UK, the figure is 1.6% in 2020.
Aerial view of a coal mine in Wollongong, Australia.

A shift to renewable energy in Australia has begun, but it is slow.

Just 9% of the country’s electricity comes from the sun. Australia has highest amount of solar radiation per square meter of land than any other continent.

DISER says there have been successful “structural changes” to the power sector, which has reduced emissions by 22.5% since peaking in 2007.

Meanwhile, as the UK, US and EU are designing a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic – promoting the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, and aiming to convert switch to electric cars – Australia’s plans focus on increasing exploration and use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change. It’s “strategy” for electric vehicles doesn’t involve any subsidies or set an end date for combustion engine cars.

ONE The report is published on Thursday of the climate consultancy InfluenceMap has shown that fossil fuel companies are having a powerful influence on Australian climate policy through well-funded lobbying, and that Australian businesses are inherently friendly. more climate-friendly is less involved in de facto government lobbying.

InfluenceMap director Ed Collins told CNN: “The direction the Australian government is taking – the recent trade negotiations with the UK, for example – is not out of the box.”

“When it comes to lobbying for climate policy in line with Paris, corporate Australia is largely lacking in action.”

Collins says Australia is a clear superiority to its peers in this dynamic field. In the United States and Europe, for example, there are large companies that are actively pushing the government on climate policy.

“In Australia, it’s not – they’re missing the voices of strategic, pro-environmental companies.”

It seems that fossil fuel lobbying companies have robbed the Australian people of climate policy. Most Australians support more climate action from the government, according to a Lowy Institute poll in May.

The poll found 78 per cent of Australians would support a net zero emissions target by 2050. The same figure supports government subsidies for electric vehicles. And 63% support a ban on opening new coal mines in Australia. However, of the 176 new coal projects in the world, 79 of them are in Australia, according to Fitch Solutions’ Global Mine Database.

The actual lobbying of government to improve climate policy is left largely to activist groups.

Lucy Manne, CEO of, an international organization with an Australian presence, accused the Morrison government of deliberately slowing climate progress.

“This is extremely frustrating, and the government will only see the call to action grow,” she said.

“The Morrison government risks Australia not only becoming a world leader, but also leaving our economy behind. Australia has the potential to become a superpower and exporter of clean energy, and the Australian public. wants us to be a leader, not a laggard.”

CNN’s Helen Regan contributed to this report.


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