COP26: Australia turns its back on 100 nations who sign global pledge

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read
  • Australia refuses to sign on to reduce methane emissions

  • Conservationists question why Santos has major presence at COP26

  • 85 per cent of world to be covered in forest protection pledge

Australia’s prime minister has left COP26 overnight with his government refusing to sign a global pledge to slash methane emissions.

More than 100 countries have committed to reduce emitting the gas by 30 per cent by 2030, with the European Union, Canada, Brazil, US, UK, Japan, Saudi Arabia and New Zealand all agreeing to the deal.

Australia joins major emitters Russia, China and India in abstaining from the Global Methane Pledge, an unsurprising decision after Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor voiced concern last month that such an agreement would impact the cattle industry.

Australia has refused to sign a pledge to reduce methane emissions, despite 105 other nations signing on. Source: Reuters
Australia has refused to sign a pledge to reduce methane emissions, despite 105 other nations signing on. Source: Reuters

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce also said such a deal would affect farmers, insisting ahead of the COP that the methane deal be kept off the table.

“The only way you can get your 30 per cent by 2030 reduction in methane on 2020 levels, would be to go and grab a rifle, go out and start shooting your cattle because it's just not possible,” he said.

Despite the emotive language used by the government about protecting farmers, critics say there is more to cutting methane than simply culling cattle. 

Gas industry and agriculture major methane emitters

With agriculture just one of two major methane emitters in Australia, the government’s sole focus on cattle has been characterised as “a little bit dishonest” by Climate Council spokesperson and Emeritus Professor at Australian National University, Professor Will Steffen.

Emissions from the mining and processing gas are another primary contributor of methane in the environment due to leakage

While much of the world is turning away from the fossil fuel, Australia's government is working towards expanding production. 

Gas giant Santos's large display inside the Australian pavilion at COP26 has angered conservationists. Source: Alex Sonderland/Climate Council
Gas giant Santos's large display inside the Australian pavilion at COP26 has angered conservationists. Source: Alex Sonderland/Climate Council

The strength of the gas sector in Australia is clear, with some climate advocates attending COP26 noting the strong presence gas giant Santos has in the Australian pavilion. 

The Clean Energy Council's Anna Freeman said it appeared to be the "star attraction" while former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it "a joke".

Stopping gas industry expansion key to reducing emissions, expert says

Professor Steffen said Australia must look to the gas industry's methane footprint when working to reduce levels of the gas in the environment. 

"The best way we could deal with methane would be to stop the expansion of the gas industry and have a phase out period for that,” Professor Steffen told Yahoo News.

“Whilst at the same time joining the efforts to work out how to reduce methane emissions from cattle.

“Obviously one way is to change people's diets so we don't eat as much meat, so you have fewer cattle on the land.

“Another way of course, is to work out different feedstocks and that could reduce methane emissions if you still have cattle.”

Why methane is worse than carbon dioxide

On a per molecule basis, methane is more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to absorbing outgoing infrared radiation, resulting in global heating.

While it is a more potent gas, methane only has a half-life of nine to 10 years, compared to carbon dioxide which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

Both the US and UK have signed on to cut their methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Source: Getty
Both the US and UK have signed on to cut their methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Source: Getty

“(The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC) looked at 2010 to 2019 and what was responsible for the warming that decade, and methane was two thirds as important to CO2 itself,” Professor Steffen said.

“So if you took CO2 is warming as one, methane causes two times of the amount of warming.

“In a short timeframe, getting methane emissions down is really important as it can have a big effect on the climate.”

Australia signs groundbreaking deal to protect world's forests

Australia was one of 114 nations to sign on to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation” by 2030, in a pledge that is backed globally by more than US $19 billion (A$25.5 billion) in public and private funding.

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use was endorsed by China, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and covers 85 per cent of the world’s forests.

More than 30 financial institutions with US $8.7 trillion (A$11.7 trillion) including Aviva, Schroders and Axa have backed the deal, by pledging not to invest in activities linked to deforestation.

With world leaders now leaving the COP, delegates will begin technical negotiations, which are expected to conclude next weekend.

Australia has made its intention to continue supporting the gas and coal industries in the near future, and has pinned its hopes of reaching net zero by 2050 on solar, along with future technologies which are yet to be invented.

Santos and the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources have been contacted for comment. 

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