‘Collapse of society’: New report shows Australia’s daunting task

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

It might feel like it's falling on deaf ears, but Australian climate scientists are calling on the government to adopt more ambitious and faster emissions reduction targets.

Australia must triple its emissions cuts within the next decade and reach net zero emissions well before 2050 to help protect the continent from the accelerating impacts of global warming, a new report by the Climate Council warns. 

Its findings are predicated on the absolute need to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius.

Global temperatures are about 1.1C higher than the pre-industrial era average and the Climate Council expects 1.5C of warming to occur during the 2030s regardless of whether large amounts of greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere.

The analysis cause for exceedingly ambitious efforts on the part of Australia. Source: Getty
The analysis cause for exceedingly ambitious efforts on the part of Australia. Source: Getty

"Should temperatures spike above 1.5°C for a significant period of time, critical ecosystems on which we depend (such as the Great Barrier Reef) would be even more severely damaged, or destroyed," the report says.

The report, titled Aim High, Go Fast, makes the argument that efforts to stabilise the climate system should focus on steps taken in the 2020s, saying Australia's contribution should be a very ambitious 75 per cent cut in emissions (below 2005 levels) by 2030.

Australia has a target to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target under the Paris Agreement which scientists have roundly said is insufficient. 

To date, the Morrison government has balked at committing to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 instead arguing technology improvements in the future will pave the way for reduced emissions. The Climate Council is calling for a 2035 target of net zero emissions.

Lead author and Climate Council spokesman, Professor Will Steffen, admitted the report pushed for a controversially ambitious timeframe but said "every fraction of a degree of avoided heating matters".

Bushfires will get worse as global temperature averages rise, scientists warn. Source: Getty
Bushfires will get worse as global temperature averages rise, scientists warn. Source: Getty

He said 15 to 20 years of temperature rise has been locked in, with every tenth of a degree of warming a considerable concern.

"We are stressing the earth's system at an extraordinary rate," he said.

Worst case scenario is 'collapse of society'

He said it was an "absolute must" that Australia cease expanding its use of fossil fuels and decarbonise the electricity system if it has any chance of making speedier reductions.

Speaking to ABC radio on Thursday, he called Australia an increasing "global laggard" when it comes to tackling emissions and warned of dire consequences if the world doesn't do more. 

The report didn't put a price tag on the economic cost of accelerating emission reductions. 

"But we can certainly put a price tag on what it's going to cost us if we don't get climate change under control," Prof Steffen said.

"Which in a worst case scenario really is collapse of the society we have today.

"So we are really looking at an existential threat. In a worse case scenario if we start triggering tipping points like the Arctic sea, Greenland ice sheet, the Amazon rain forest, there will be no turning back."

The Climate Council is calling for drastic action to keep temperature rises under 2C. Source: Climate Council.
The Climate Council is calling for drastic action to keep temperature rises under 2C. Source: Climate Council.

Wealthy Australia must play its part in global climate effort

Prof Steffen says global emissions must be cut in half by 2030, urging Australia to play its part as a wealthy nation that can embrace renewables.

The report also looks overseas, pointing to emissions increases in India, Russia and China – the world's biggest emitter.

China has recently committed to net zero emissions by 2060 and has started planning how it will achieve that.

The United States is committed to net zero by 2050 and President Joe Biden is set to announce a more ambitious 2030 target. The US is also set to lead a climate summit next week which will be virtually attended by Australia.

Meanwhile nations have been asked to resubmit their emissions-reduction targets ahead of a major United Nations climate conference this November, to be held in Glasgow.

The Climate Council was set up after the Abbott government abolished the Climate Commission in 2013.

with AAP

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