Australia needs a dramatic increase in its emissions reduction targets to stay in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming to well below 2C, analysis has found.
An independent group of Australia’s most senior climate scientists and policymakers have released a report showing the nation’s targets fall well short of what’s required.
The group, called the Climate Targets Panel, found Australia’s 2030 emissions target essentially needs to be doubled.
At the moment, Australia has a target to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
But the report found this would need to be increased to 50 per cent if Australia wanted to be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping warming to well below 2C.
An even bigger increase is necessary to keep warming to the widely preferred target of 1.5C, with Australia required to reduce emissions to 74 per cent below 2005 levels.
The report authors say the 2030 target is crucial. They include former Liberal leader John Hewson, former science adviser to Australia’s Department of Climate Change Will Steffen, Macquarie University Professor Lesley Hughes and University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College founding director Professor Malte Meinshausen.
“Without stronger action in the short term, it becomes impossible for Australia to act consistently with the Paris Agreement goals,” the report said.
More recently, there has been pressure for Australia to adopt a net-zero by 2050 target, which other countries like France, UK, Germany, Canada, South Africa, South Korea and Japan have all adopted.
So far Australia has only said it has a goal to achieve “net-zero emissions as soon as possible”.
But even if it were to commit to net-zero by 2050, the report found this would not be enough.
It found net zero emissions would have to be reached five years earlier – by 2045 – in order for Australia to stay well below 2C.
If global warming was to be limited to 1.5C, which would lessen some of the worst impacts including extreme weather events and food shortages, net zero emissions would have to be reached even earlier, in 2035.
“To meet the Paris Agreement goals, the Australian government would have to effectively double its 2030 ambition,” Mr Hewson said.
“Anything less than a 50 per cent cut on 2005 levels by 2030 is abandoning the Paris Agreement.”
Mr Hewson said a goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 was not enough without strong 2030 or 2035 targets.
“Targets have become a political contest, not driven by science but political expediency,” he said. “Evidence-based targets must be supported by policy responses that will meet these targets.”
The report noted that the window for action was closing and recent research suggested “climate tipping points” may be breached very soon.
“Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology recently gave evidence to the Australian Parliament that the country is on track for 4.4C of warming this century,” the report said.
“This would be catastrophic for our society, health, economy and environment.”
The Climate Targets Panel based its analysis on work done by the government’s expert body — the Climate Change Authority — in 2014, which analysed the country’s emissions and the targets necessary to stay within its obligations.
The authority has not conducted any further research about targets or progress since 2014 and the panel sought to update its work so that it can inform debate ahead of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow.
Australia will be expected to update its short-term targets when it attends the conference in November.
WORLD SURVEY REVEALS CONCERN
On Wednesday, the United Nations Development Programme released the results of the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change.
Covering 50 countries with more than half the world’s population, and including half a million people under the age of 18, it found 64 per cent believed climate change was a global emergency.
In eight out of the 10 survey countries that produced the highest emissions from the power sector, majorities backed more renewable energy.
In general, policies with the most wide-ranging support were conserving forests and land (54 per cent public support), more solar, wind and renewable power (53 per cent), adopting climate-friendly farming techniques (52 per cent) and investing more in green businesses and jobs (50 per cent).
In nine out of 10 countries with the most urbanised populations, people also wanted more electric cars, buses or bicycles.
“The results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support among people around the globe, across nationalities, age, gender and education level,” UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said.
“But more than that, the poll reveals how people want their policymakers to tackle the crisis.
“From climate-friendly farming to protecting nature and investing in a green recovery from COVID-19, the survey brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate.
“It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge.”