This weekend more than 70 world leaders – from Canada to Japan to Rwanda – will gather virtually to discuss how they are laying the concrete foundations for the clean economic transition that all their policies are converging upon. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not be one of them.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament on Thursday that Australia’s climate and energy policy would be set “in Australia’s national interest, not to get a speaking slot at some international summit”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Leaders were asked to submit ambitious new proposals to the UN, French and British governments running the Climate Action Summit. Australia's offer – to stop using old carbon credits to make it easier to meet emission cut goals and to consider a carbon neutrality plan – was deemed by the organisers to be unacceptably weak, especially compared with the concrete commitments and plans from other leading economies.
Australia will be a notable absentee at a meeting where Britain, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, China and connections to the incoming US administration will affirm the direction of the battle against climate change. Australia is not at the table of leaders who have set a clear direction for a cleaner world where fossil fuels do not dominate, where coal is in a death spiral and oil and gas greatly diminished. This will ultimately hurt Australia’s people and economy.
Few countries are as blessed as Australia when it comes to clean energy potential. From the sun, surf and wind to the raw materials that are critical to the fifth industrial revolution, few countries can count themselves as lucky to have so many winning cards.
To the rest of the world, Australia’s national-level inaction, based largely on the claim that climate is a left-right political issue, is bizarre. Britian's Conservative government – which shares multiple advisers with the Australian Liberal Party – are staunch advocates of a net-zero target. Conservative and liberal leaders across Europe, from Angela Merkel in Germany to Mark Rutte in the Netherlands to Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, support this ambition.
Even Australian citizens themselves support this action. One recent study showed 79 per cent of Australians are concerned about climate change. And every single Australian state has committed to net zero.
To secure a thriving economy and future for its citizens, Australia’s leaders need to set a clear direction for the economy – one that will take advantage of an estimated $63 billion to 2025 by aligning policies to a carbon-neutral world, and one that also provides a transition plan for regions and citizens most affected by the shift away from fossil fuels.
Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, progress on low-carbon solutions has accelerated rapidly. By 2030, low-carbon solutions could be competitive in sectors accounting for 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas. Low-carbon growth through the 2020s stands to generate up to 35 million jobs.
The truth is, it’s not simply January’s raging wildfires, the hottest spring on record, or a baking November that should make ministers sweat. Countries that don’t move on low-carbon policy will lose productivity, competitiveness – and will lose out on trade deals as the EU, Britain and the US roll out carbon border taxes. For a country somewhat isolated by oceans, Australia should not want to risk isolating its economy further.
Canberra needs to accept the reality that its peers around the world and many of its state leaders already have – net zero is the endgame.
It means stepping up to the plate: adopting a 2050 net-zero target, aligning public policy and short-term action, and shifting investment fast towards cleaner forms of energy – that’s solar, wind plus storage and other forms of renewables: not gas.
It means scrapping all plans to use old carbon credits, and committing to a tougher and eminently achievable 2030 climate target of at least 40 per cent cuts by 2030, based on 2005 levels. It also means Australia committing to helping poorer countries cope with impacts, and substantially raising its global climate finance contributions.
Australians are a diverse, proud and generous people, outward-looking and committed to free trade and exchange. They understand that the clean economy is the trade opportunity of the 2020s, and that incoming climate impacts are the geopolitical challenge of this century. The government must step up and support the people’s prosperous vision now.
The world needs Australia to re-engage on climate, and Australia is better placed than most to thrive as the fifth industrial revolution kicks in. Or as a famous 2006 Australian advertisement said, where the bloody hell are you?
Laurence Tubiana is chief executive of the European Climate Foundation She served as France's climate change ambassador and special representative for the 2015 COP21 climate change conference in Paris. She is recognised as a key architect of the resulting Paris Agreement.
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