Net zero: Emissions, low targets put Australia 'dead last' on climate action

Australia is ranked last on climate action in a report urgently calling for the nation to adopt more ambitious 2030 targets for reducing carbon emissions.

The Climate Council ranking, released today, coincides with UN warnings that governments are not planning large enough cuts in fossil fuels to meet even their least ambitious Paris Agreement targets.

In the Climate Council report, released 10 days before the Glasgow climate summit, Australia's emissions, low carbon reduction targets, and large fossil fuel energy use and exports put it "dead last" behind other developed nations on climate performance.

The council warned Australia - a "fossil fuel giant" - risked being left behind as other nations committed to larger carbon emissions reductions.

Report co-author Simon Bradshaw said a federal government commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 would leave Australia's rank unchanged.

More ambitious 2030 targets were needed to improve its standing.

"That's what the science is compelling us to do, if we're to avoid a real climate catastrophe. That's where the global political focus has moved," Dr Bradshaw said.

"We really urgently have to step up our game."

Australia should adopt a minimum ambition of matching key allies with a 50 per cent reduction target on 2005 emission levels by 2030, the Climate Council report said.

It ranked 30 wealthy developed countries on emissions reductions - both their pledges and actual records on greenhouse gases - as well as their fossil fuel dependence.

The report called for Australia to adopt a plan to reduce emissions this decade, saying it would create investment and new jobs in renewable energy and clean industries that stood to benefit regional areas.

Australia needed a national plan to rapidly decarbonise its electricity and transport sectors, absorb more carbon in the land, and support communities in transitioning to new clean industries, it said.

"With world-class renewable energy resources and enviable mineral reserves needed to drive the global energy transition, Australia has the potential to grow new export industries that far exceed the value of our current fossil fuel exports," the report said.

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Dr Bradshaw said there were economic opportunities from the shift to net zero emissions, if the transition was properly managed.

"The thing that risks impoverishing Australia's regions, is if we don't get with the rest of the world, if we double down on fossil fuels and the industries of the past, and essentially leave communities stranded," he said.

"That is the the most unwise and unkind thing we could be doing at this moment."

Dr Bradshaw said COP26 was a defining moment in the world's response to climate change.

"Australia remains the villain, and an outlier in the international community," he said.

However it could have an outsized positive influence at the upcoming summit if it changed its approach to climate action, Dr Bradshaw said.

In a foreword to the Climate Council report, From Paris to Glasgow, Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama called on nations to come to COP26 with new commitments for serious cuts in emissions by 2030 of 50 per cent or more, and net zero before 2050.

"Do not come with excuses. That time is past," he said.

It comes as the UN warns governments are not planning to cut fossil fuels enough. Signatories to the Paris Accord have pledged to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.

But the UN Environment Program's Production Report found fossil fuel production would be 110 per cent above levels needed to hit 1.5 degrees, and 45 per cent above that needed to hit 2 degrees.

Australia projected increases in oil (32 per cent), gas (12 per cent), and coal (4 per cent) production by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.

The report found Australia was now the world's largest coal exporter, with the production "expanding rapidly" since 2010, and major gas and oil producers allowed to pay "little or nothing" in royalties.

It accused the Commonwealth of having no plan for a managed wind-down of fossil fuels.

"The federal government promotes its fossil fuel industry, emphasising the economic importance of its coal and gas sectors," the report said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged governments and private companies to switch away from coal.

"This report starkly shows there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future," he said.

Global gas production, set for its biggest increase between 2020 and 2040, was a particular concern.

The UN report also accused countries of failing to use COVID-19 recovery payments to cut emissions, with more than $400 billion spent on propping up the fossil fuel industry.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison is attending the Glasgow climate summit later this month. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is attending the Glasgow climate summit later this month. Picture: Keegan Carroll

This story Emissions, low targets put Australia 'dead last' on climate action first appeared on The Canberra Times.