If coal mining continues, the Australian government’s new “plan” to tackle climate change may be ineffective.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined the Australian government’s climate change strategy only days before flying for Glasgow to attend COP26. Morrison characterized his government’s pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 as a huge milestone, but many Australians remain skeptical. Morrison’s current plan to cut carbon emissions, dubbed “the Australian way,” is primarily reliant on vague “low emissions technology” breakthroughs and contentious “clean hydrogen,” as well as changes in land use and increasing corporate and homeowner-led renewable energy adoption.
Moreover, although the prime minister will bring the net-zero by 2050 goal to COP26, no new legally enforceable objectives have been published. Australia will maintain its 2030 goal of decreasing emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels. Australia emits over 17 metric tonnes per person per year, more than three times the worldwide average. Morrison, who just two weeks ago refused to commit to attending COP26 at all, believes that this strategy would lead Australia towards a more sustainable future. His administration says that his policies would boost GDP and generate up to 62,000 new employment.
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There was no modeling to support the strategy, and scientists, academics, and businesspeople are especially concerned about the lack of specificity. “Australia is scurrying at the last minute to reach a national stance on 2050,” said Susan Harris Rimmer, Director of Griffith University’s Policy Innovation Hub. According to Rimmer, the idea is “a pitiful national posture to carry to COP26.” Australia has a long history of using fossil fuels, notably coal. The country produces much more coal than it operates, and coal exports provide over $50 billion ($37.5 billion) to national GDP each year. Australia shipped 213 million tonnes in the fiscal year 2019-20 alone.
When carbon emissions from fossil fuel exports are included, Australia ranks third globally, after only Russia and Saudi Arabia. Despite the industry’s prominent role in the climate problem, both major political parties — the ruling Liberal Party and the opposition Labor Party – are dedicated to maintaining exports. Since 1910, the continent has warmed by 1.44 degrees Celsius, and the seven years from 2013 to 2019 were among the warmest nine years on record. Rainfall has decreased, tropical cyclones have grown more destructive, and the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is in “critical” condition.
Bushfires in Australia’s southern hemisphere summer of 2019-2020 killed at least 33 people and billions of animals, resulting in the country’s worst-ever peacetime evacuation, while more severe storm occurrences might destroy up to 15,000 kilometers of shoreline by 2100.
Australia’s Pacific neighbors are also feeling the pinch. Rising sea levels and flash floods pose a persistent danger to low-lying coral atoll countries such as Kiribati. Kiribati has even purchased the property in Fiji if the whole nation must evacuate.