Australia has received the lowest scores amongst developed countries for its use of fossil fuel and track record of delivering reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in a new assessment of national climate change policies.
In the new assessment, published by the Climate Council on Thursday, Australia ranked last out of developed countries for its performance on climate action.
The Climate Council’s assessment compared each country’s track record of achieving reductions in their national emissions, as well as their pledges to further reduce emissions out to 2030.
The Australian based research group assessed developed countries – countries included in Annex I of the UNFCCC and are members of the OECD – across six different metrics, including the change in their emissions since 1990, the changes in emissions per capita and per unit of GDP, as well as the predicted change in emissions by 2030.
Countries were also assessed on their use of fossil fuels, both with respect to domestic fossil fuel consumption, as well as each country’s contribution to the global fossil fuel market through exports.
Australia ranked either last, or near last, on each metric assessed and received the worst overall scores of the 31 countries included in the assessment.
“Australia ranks dead last among comparable nations for addressing the climate challenge at its source – by cutting emissions,” the report says.
“Australia is a fossil fuel giant, with coal and gas industries that are among the world’s biggest drivers of climate change. The Climate Council’s ranking system judges Australia as the equal worst performer among comparable nations for fossil fuel extraction and use, taking into account both exports and domestic consumption.”
“There has been a rapid and irreversible shift in the global politics surrounding climate change. Australia is being left behind and must catch up if it is to reap the economic and geostrategic benefits of taking stronger action,” the report adds.
The Climate Council noted that Australia would continue to rank last, even if the Morrison government ultimately decides to take a zero net emissions commitment to the COP26 talks in Glasgow, due in large part to the government’s refusal to strengthen its 2030 target.
There is a growing body of research, including a recent authoritative assessment published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which suggests that significant reductions in emissions well before 2050 will be key to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and limiting global warming to below two degrees.
Many of Australia’s international peers, including major trading partners, have increased their pledged emissions reductions by 2030, ahead of the COP26 talks.
By 2030, the United States will aim to cut emissions by 50-52 per cent, the United Kingdom is aiming for a 68 per cent cut, the EU has a 55 per cent target and Japan recently increased its 2030 target to 46 per cent.
Australia will take its existing 26-28 per cent emissions cut – an Abbott-era target – to the COP26 talks.
“The science is clear and for the first time Australia’s traditional allies and closest security partners, as well as our neighbours, are universally and explicitly calling for Australia to lift its 2030 emission reduction target,” report co-author and Climate Council researcher, Dr Simon Bradshaw, said.
“This isn’t just about saving face internationally, this is about protecting Australia’s economic future and ensuring our children and grandchildren can not only survive but thrive.”
Chief Climate Councillor, Professor Tim Flannery, who co-authored the report said it highlighted the need for countries to focus on taking measures to cut emissions well before 2050, given the urgency of the response to the climate emergency.
“We know what needs to happen in Glasgow, and we know what Australia must do to help achieve it. Net zero by 2050 is last year’s story,” Flannery said.
“Almost all our traditional allies and major trading partners ticked that off long ago and have now set their sights on 2030. It is the scale and pace of action through the 2020s that matters, and which Glasgow’s success or failure will be measured by.”
A UN-backed report, published earlier this week, highlighted the significant gap between the emissions reduction targets being adopted by countries and their respective plans to extract and consume fossil fuels.
The UNEP co-authored report found that government projections of fossil fuel production found that the world was on track to produce twice as much coal as is compatible with limiting global warming to safe levels.
Bradshaw said that Australia needed to reconsider the planned expansion of its fossil fuel industries, including over 80 proposed coal projects currently in the development pipeline.
“It will be game over for Australia on ever being taken seriously on climate change again if these polluting fossil fuel projects are allowed to proceed,” Dr Bradshaw said.
“There has been a rapid and irreversible shift in the global politics surrounding climate change. Australia must get with the program – to reap the economic and geostrategic benefits of taking stronger action – or get left behind.”