The Morrison government will not consider any increases to Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction targets, and will wait until the last minute to announce any future targets that it is obliged to reveal under the Paris climate treaty.
The Coalition government has adopted a long-standing 2030 emissions reduction target of between 26 and 28 per cent from 2005 levels and has officially communicated this position in international climate change negotiations.
It has been criticised for the weakness of this 2030 target, falling well short of what is needed for reaching zero net emissions by 2050 – a target that it is yet to recognise – and there have been questions about whether its lacklustre set of policies can meet even its weak 2030 ambitions.
However, federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor confirmed, in a response to a question provided in writing by Labor’s shadow minister assisting for climate change Pat Conroy, that Australia intended to re-communicate the same emissions reduction pledge to the next round of international climate change negotiations, to be held in Glasgow sometime next year.
It also appears that Australia’s next target, spelling out Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions in 2035, won’t be delivered any time before its deadline of 2025, leaving the minimum amount of notice for businesses to adjust to the next level of ambition.
“In accordance with the Paris Agreement, the Australian Government intends to recommunicate its current NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) ahead of the next United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26),” Taylor’s response said. “Australia’s subsequent NDC, including a target to 2035 or 2040, is due to be communicated in 2025.”
The Morrison government faced renewed pressure during the beginning of 2020 after climate change fuelled fires that impacted a significant number of communities across Australia’s eastern states and territories, as well as blanketing large population centres like Sydney in thick smoke pollution.
On Tuesday, the Royal Commission into bushfire preparedness heard evidence that the smoke from the 2020 summer bushfires caused almost 450 deaths, and was the cause of more than 3,300 admissions to hospital for heart and lung impacts.
Despite the terms of the Paris Agreement, which includes commitments from countries to regularly review and update their emissions reduction targets, with an eye to ramping up their commitments over time, the Morrison government has been steadfast in its refusal to increase its 2030 emissions reduction commitments.
This refusal has enraged environmental campaigners, suggesting that it showed the government was choosing to side with the fossil fuel industry instead of acting in the interests of communities that have been impacted by bushfires.
“Angus Taylor has again shown that the Coalition’s priority is the fossil fuel barons and not the Australian people suffering the deadly impacts of the climate crisis, like this summer’s bushfires which the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed once again at yesterday’s Royal Commission hearing are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.
“As modernising governments and investors around the world shun coal, oil and gas for clean energy sources like wind and solar, Angus Taylor is scheming new ways to hand over more public money to the biggest polluters who will be allowed to carry on their destructive practices with impunity.”
“The Coalition is charging ahead with a weak climate agenda when it has a pivotal opportunity to put renewable energy at the centre of the economic recovery and support diverse, future-facing industries which will reduce our emissions, grow jobs and support climate action, as recommended by everyone from the International Energy Agency to the Big Four banks – all that stands in the way is the Government’s hand-picked fossil-heavy Covid Commission.”
The government has also faced calls from a collection of business, investor and social service sector leaders to set long-term emissions reduction targets and policies, to provide certainty to businesses and the wider Australian community about the pathway towards achieving the zero net emissions goal of the Paris Agreement.
This week, the Australian Climate Roundtable, which features the likes of the Australian Industry Group, the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Business Council of Australia and the National Farmers Federation, issued a renewed call for the government to align its responses to climate change and the economic challenges of Covid-19.
“Beyond the pandemic, Australian prosperity also depends on dealing with other long-term challenges – including the transition to net zero emissions,” the roundtable said in a statement.
“Economic recovery efforts can and should contribute to addressing these long term challenges. Our organisations encourage governments to bolster their jobs and recovery strategies with measures to reduce emissions and accelerate successful energy transitions across all Australia’s regions and economic sectors.”
The Morrison government burnt a significant amount of diplomatic capital at the last round of climate change negotiations, held in Madrid last year, after advocating for measures that would have watered down the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, and let countries like Australia effectively free-ride on “surplus” emissions cuts achieved under an earlier treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.
Global leaders labelled the Madrid talks as a “lost opportunity” after Australia sided with countries like Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Trump’s the United States and oil-rich Saudi Arabia in working to undermine agreements on progressing international cooperation on climate change action.
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