COP26: Glasgow Climate goals in doubt as Scott Morrison heads to climate summit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the G20 talks in Rome. Picture: Getty Images
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the G20 talks in Rome. Picture: Getty Images

A former Australian climate envoy has played down expectations about the Glasgow summit, saying there is no chance the event alone will set the planet on a path to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

But Howard Bamsey says the world must not lose hope if the UN summit's lofty aims aren't secured during the crunch talks, arguing the enormous task of containing climate change remains doable as investment trends continue to push countries to slash emissions.

World leaders have arrived in Glasgow for a conference billed as the planet's "last best hope" to keep within reach the ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Countries are being urged to commit to deeper emissions cuts this decade amid warnings the key temperature threshold could be breached in the early 2030s, far quicker than previously thought.

Hopes that a landmark new global climate agreement could be struck were starting to wane even before Mr Morrison and other leaders landed in Scotland for the COP26 summit.

While a number of G20 countries, including Australia, have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, other members including Russia, China and India have not.

UK Prime Minister and COP26 host and Boris Johnson reportedly described the outcome from Rome as "not enough", as he warned that a failure to lift ambitions in Glasgow would mean the Paris agreement had "crumpled at the first reckoning."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned over the weekend that the summit was at risk of failure amid "dangerous levels of mistrust" among global powers.

Mr Guterres and the UN say emissions cuts of 45 per cent by 2030 are needed to meet the Paris targets.

Former Australia special envoy on climate change Howard Bamsey. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Former Australia special envoy on climate change Howard Bamsey. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Professor Bamsey, who has attended more than 20 COP summits, said it wasn't reasonable to expect all countries to adopt the same emission reduction targets, given each had different domestic circumstances.

He said a better measure of success at Glasgow would be if a significant number of countries agreed to stronger climate action targets, sending a clear signal that the global economy was ready to "do more and do better".

But he predicted that despite the ambitions of countries such as the US and UK, whatever was pledged over the coming fortnight would not be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

"If you are using as the measure of success, will we emerge from Glasgow knowing that we're within reach of 1.5 degrees difference? Absolutely not [Glasgow won't be a success]," he told The Canberra Times.

"That's not going to happen."

But while a historic accord mightn't be reached in Glasgow, Professor Bamsey held out hope that an agreement to contain climate change could be reached in the future following further talks between leaders and officials.

The former executive director of the UN's Green Climate Fund said the key was "changing the trajectory" of global investment to channel more spending toward clean energy technologies.

He said the international financial system was starting to "green", with banks and prudential regulators already sending signals to the market that investments in renewable energy technologies would be profitable.

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The Morrison government has put technology at the heart of its net zero by 2050 plan, which has been heavily criticised in Australia and overseas for its lack of detail and absence of new policies.

Mr Morrison told reporters in Rome that he believed progress in the global climate fight would be made in Glasgow, despite the failure of G20 leaders to agree to net zero by 2050.

While the Prime Minister said countries would map their own course to carbon neutrality, he believed that technology was the solution.

"The point I make is that technology is the way that China can achieve it, India can achieve it, Indonesia can achieve it," he said.

The Morrison government's failure to lift its 2030 target or announce any new climate policies has led most observers to predict Australia's delegation would face a frosty reception in Glasgow.

Professor Bamsey had a different view, arguing the significance of Australia's net zero 2050 pledge should not be downplayed.

"Now we have said the words [net zero by 2050], we are sort of in the mainstream," he said. "It would be much better if we had a really credible plan about how we are going to get there.

"They're not going to seen as the stars of the show [in Glasgow] ... but they're not going to be seen as pariahs either, I don't believe."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Morrison's failure to outline a clear path to net zero would be "exposed" in Glasgow.

The opposition has committed to legislate a net zero by 2050 target if it wins the next election, but is waiting until after the COP26 summit to announce its short-term goals.

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This story Climate hopes in doubt as Glasgow talks fire up first appeared on The Canberra Times.