Australia shamed – again – on climate, as UNEP report calls for urgent action

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Australia’s weak climate action highlighted in latest UNEP report that says countries should be tripling their pledges to limit warming to 2°C, and increase them 5-fold to meet 1.5°C target.

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A general view of the Mt Piper coal fired power station near, Lithgow, NSW, Monday, May 8, 2017. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
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Australia has once again been named and shamed for its abysmal performance on climate action, as the latest Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that the opportunity to limit dangerous global warming is “quickly dwindling.”

The report says that, at present, the world’s G20 countries are collectively not on track to meet their unconditional nationally determined contributions for 2030, thanks to a number of laggards – including Australia – that are set to fall well short of meeting their targets.

This is particularly concerning, in light of the fact that, to successfully limit warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels in 2100, UNEP says most countries’ climate pledges need “to be roughly tripled.”

Holding warming below 1.5°C – the absolute maximum temperature rise recommended by the IPCC – would require existing commitments to be “increased around fivefold,” the report says.

In the case of Australia, whose initial commitment under the Paris treaty is for a 26-28 percent reduction below 2005 levels of GHG emissions by 2030, UNEP says “there has been no improvement in Australia’s climate policy since 2017 and emission levels for 2030 are projected to be well above the NDC target.”

Indeed, according to the government’s own projections, emissions are on track to remain at high levels rather than reducing in line with the 2030 target.

And that’s largely because there are currently zero federal policies to support economy-wide emissions reductions, beyond the 2020 RET and the Emissions Reduction Fund.

The assessment, comes hot on the heels of the Victorian Labor Party’s landslide win in the weekend’s state poll – a result many have interpreted as a referendum on climate and renewables.

But despite that outcome, and the result in Wentworth before it, the federal Morrison government is ignoring calls from within its own ranks to take a moderate policy approach to climate and energy.

Rather, as Giles Parkinson wrote here, the Coalition government appear to be proceeding with what they know best – another carbon tax scare campaign against Labor.

“It is a slap in the face for Australians that the Prime Minister, Environment Minister and Energy Minister all repeat the lie that Australia will meet our Paris climate targets ‘in a canter’,” said federal Labor energy and climate spokesperson Mark Butler on Wednesday.

“No wonder ‘moderate Liberals’ are finally speaking out against the … hard right wreckers of their party room which have dictated action on climate change and energy.”

But, of course, the urgent task of limiting global warming extends beyond Australia’s embarrassingly parochial and backwards-looking policy landscape.

And in case the message gets lost in the political noise, UNEP Gap Report authors and World Resources Institute experts Kelly Levin and Taryn Fransen have outlined some of the key messages that should be seared into our brains from the latest report.

– The emissions gap is large, and has grown in 2018 compared to past reports

Really, the graph below says it all. But in short, current NDCs will limit total global emissions in 2030 to 53-56 gigatonnes (GtCO2e), when keeping warming below 2˚C requires reducing them to 40 GtCO2e on average, and to 24 GtCO2e if we can have any hope of limiting warming to 1.5˚C.

– Unless countries like Australia strengthen their 2030 climate commitments, the world will not be able to limit warming to 1.5˚C, and “it’s extremely unlikely we will limit warming below 2˚C,” say Levin and Fransen.

– Only 6 of the world’s 20 largest economies are on track to meet their 2030 Paris climate commitments. Australia is not among those countries, which include China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

“Calls for enhanced climate action are getting louder and louder with every release of the Emissions Gap Report,” say Levin and Fransen in their WRI Blog article on Wednesday.

“This report—which comes on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C report and the U.S. National Climate Assessment—should be received with even greater urgency.

“The UN climate conference in Poland next week (COP24) offers the most immediate opportunity for countries to step up their ambition and strengthen their NDCs. With a narrowing window to peak emissions and a growing emissions gap, now is the time to put scientific findings into action.”

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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