Choose it or lose it
Australia has a last chance to avert climate catastrophe
Australia has become the “poster-child for irresponsibility on climate change” according to Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was instrumental in delivering the Paris Agreement in 2015. Figueres is in Australia on a speaking tour, and in an interview this morning said the world had to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 if it wished to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. “If we are not at that point by 2030,” she says, “we will not be able to control the consequences of unmitigated climate change anymore, and the entire world will see scenarios like the Australian bushfires.” In her co-written book The Future We Choose, Figueres paints a frightening picture of a worst-case 2050, in which huge swathes of Asia, Africa and Australia are uninhabitable. But Figueres is also surprisingly optimistic: she laughs off the suggestion the Paris Agreement is unravelling; she highlights the possibility that global emissions may finally have peaked and will trend downwards after flattening last year; and she insists that if the world can reach net zero emissions by 2050, it is not too late to keep warming to 1.5 degrees.
Figueres says of 189 countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement, only one – the United States – has pulled out, and while both Brazil and Australia have raised serious concerns, neither has indicated an intention to withdraw. More worrying, according to Figueres, is that so far only 80 countries have registered improved national emissions reduction targets ahead of this year’s climate talks in Glasgow – as part of the Paris Agreement, signatories are meant to ratchet up their level of ambition every five years – and mostly those are small economies. “It is really important to see the larger countries doing the same,” she says. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s gambit of taking some form of technology target to Glasgow, rather than a commitment to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, will not suffice, according to Figueres. “I frankly think every industrialised country has to take on an economy-wide target.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese today committed to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – to be achieved without using dodgy carry-over credits – recognising that every state and territory had promised to “operate in a carbon-neutral way” by mid century, and that the target was now supported by plenty of businesses and 73 countries around the world, including the UK, Canada, France and Germany. It is a welcome sign that Labor is not going to water on climate change, notwithstanding the urgings of some on the pro-coal right, fond of a certain flash restaurant in Canberra. To counter those who argue Labor has an obligation to put a dollar figure on how much the 2050 net-zero target will cost – an unanswerable proposition – Albanese cited CSIRO research showing that the target will result in higher wages, higher growth and lower energy costs. Albanese, like the Greens, sings the praises of the positive agenda laid out in Ross Garnaut’s Superpower, which shows how Australia could use abundant renewables to transform itself into a manufacturing powerhouse and export clean power to Asia.
Figueres, who will speak alongside Garnaut in the Melbourne leg of her tour, says Australia is missing the point by trying to minimise its emissions reduction commitments. “If there is anything that we have learnt from the bushfires in Australia over the last five months, it is that Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change … Australia should be the first country with the keenest and most intense motivation to do all that it can to reduce its emissions, because that way it stands on the high moral ground to request other countries to do the same. Because the future of Australia depends on other countries being responsible, and Australia can only have that as a result if it is being itself responsible.”
Net zero emissions by 2050 is an important goal, and it implies extremely ambitious 2030 targets recently estimated at 7 per cent per year from 2020. If the whole world is going to halve emissions in a decade, then Australia’s fair share as the highest per capita emitter in the developed world will require going even further.
Christiana Figueres will betalking about her book The Future We Choose at events in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast in March.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Australia has become the “poster-child for irresponsibility on climate change” according to Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was instrumental in delivering the Paris Agreement in 2015. Figueres is in Australia on a speaking tour, and in an interview this morning said the world had to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 if it wished to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. “If we are not at that point by 2030,” she says, “we will not be able to control the consequences of unmitigated climate change anymore, and the entire world will see scenarios like the Australian bushfires.” In her co-written book The Future We Choose, Figueres paints a...