A new analysis of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions shows Australia must embrace significantly more ambitious emissions reduction targets or fall afoul of our Paris Agreement commitments.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels, preferably below 1.5 degrees.
At the current pace, Australia will miss its targets as the nation stares down a “catastrophic” scenario of 4.4 degrees warming by the end of the century.
The report was produced by a new group calling itself the Climate Targets Panel and includes some of the nation’s top climate scientists and policymakers, including former Liberal leader John Hewson.
Australia currently has a target to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but the report argues that target needs to effectively be doubled.
“To be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees, Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target must be 50 per cent below 2005 levels,” it says.
While the Morrison government has balked at committing to a target of ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, the analysis shows much more is actually needed.
“This analysis concludes that Australia would not be acting consistently with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global to well below 2 degrees if it simply adopts a ‘net-zero by 2050’ goal, a point sometimes lost in current debate,” the report says.
Instead, the report calls for interim cuts of 50 per cent by 2030, 67 per cent by 2035 and 84 per cent by 2040 while reaching net-zero by 2045.
The paper relied on the same methodology that the government’s Climate Change Authority used in a 2014 report to advise the Abbott government on targets at the time.
In October, the Bureau of Meteorology gave evidence in the Senate that Australia was on track to warm by 4.4 degrees by the end of the century.
“This would be catastrophic for our society, health, economy and environment,” the report warns.
Australia only makes up a small amount of global emissions, a fact often cited by those who oppose enacting more ambitious reduction targets.
Speaking to ABC Radio Thursday, Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the fight had to be led by the largest global economies.
“We are 1.3 per cent of global emissions, we could wipe out all of our emissions tomorrow and it would make not one bit of difference,” he said.
“What we need to do is join with the international community, sign the global instrument of the day – which is currently Paris – and then make a nationally determined commitment to that agreement.
“[But] unless the US, China, Russia and India move, and move substantially, we won’t meet those targets [of the Paris Agreement].
“We are a small player in this.”
‘We can’t wait any longer’: US ramps up fight
In his first days in office, US president Joe Biden has ramped up efforts to avoid the worst of global warming.
In the most ambitious US effort yet, he signed executive orders Wednesday (local time) to transform America’s heavily fossil-fuel powered economy into a clean-burning one.
The directives aim to conserve 30 per cent of the country’s lands and waters in the next 10 years, double the nation’s offshore wind energy, and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, among other changes.
“We can’t wait any longer” to address the climate crisis, Biden said at the White House. “We see with our own eyes. We know it in our bones. It is time to act.”
His comments were echoed by John Kerry, Biden’s newly appointed international climate envoy tasked with rallying more ambitious targets from world leaders, who cited Australia’s horror bushfire season last summer as an example that should “stop us in our tracks”.
“There are countless economic analyses now that show it's now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than it is to ignore it,” he told reporters overnight.
On Wednesday, a new report by the Climate Council showed the cost of extreme weather has more than doubled over the last 50 years.
The cost reached $35 billion for the decade after 2010, the organisation said. By 2038 the cost of extreme weather events and sea level rise could cost the Australian economy $100 billion every year.
“No developed country has more to lose from climate change-fuelled extreme weather, or more to gain as the world transforms to a zero-carbon economy, than Australia does,” said Climate Council spokesman Professor Will Steffen.
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