Australia’s dismal climate record comes under spotlight after global summit

LONDON – Days before arriving in Glasgow, Scotland for an important global climate initiative gathering, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country is setting a zero carbon target by 2050.

However, he added that he will not legislate the target and will instead rely on consumers and businesses to help drive emissions reductions.

It was the kind of half-measure that climate activists feared would carry over to the COP26 summit, the United Nations’ most recent climate talks in Glasgow. They said it was so.

“Australia’s ambition for COP26 was to get away with it. To do as little as possible, “said Richie Merzianwho previously served as the Australian government’s COP negotiator for a decade and is now director of climate and energy programs at the Australia Institute, an independent public policy think tank.

Because of its vast arid and barren landscape, Australia has long come under fire as one of the world’s leading producers of coal and gas and has only been narrowly dubbed the villain of the summit.

While the country remains a key U.S. ally amid tensions with China, it has done little in recent years to indicate that, despite its pride in its abundant native wildlife and environmental treasures, it has been a leading partner in the fight against climate change will. Your actions at the climate change conference did little to allay environmentalists’ concerns.

Critics say Australia’s net zero announcement is an empty promise and the country’s participation in the world summit only showed that the current Conservative government is more interested in fossil fuels than in any way addressing climate change.

“They wanted to neutralize the criticism that they are doing nothing about the climate” by showing up but doing little more, said Merzian in a telephone interview from Glasgow during the last days of the summit.

David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, also sharply criticized Australia’s performance at the climate summit.

“The position taken by the Morrison administration on Glasgow has been an embarrassment, deeply inadequate and utterly inadequate as the climate crisis is accelerating before our eyes,” he said in an email from Sydney after the summit.

NBC News reached out to Morrison’s office for comment and was referred to public comments by Secretary of State for Industry, Energy and Emission Control, Angus Taylor.

“As part of our plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we will act in practical and responsible ways to reduce emissions and build on our track record – reducing emissions while growing our economy, creating affordable, reliable energy and ensure that our regions are preserved. ”strong. This is the Australian way, ”Taylor said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Marise Payne after the climate summit.

Between the powerful fossil fuel industry and a cascade of natural disasters, climate change has found its way into the heart of Australian politics.

Mining has been a major driving force in the Australian economy since it was a British colony in the early 19th century, but coal production really increased after World War II and industry is still a major employer in many rural communities.

The country is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and is the third largest exporter of fossil fuels after Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In Glasgow, Australia came under fire for failing to sign agreements such as the UK-sponsored Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement or the US-led Global Methane Pledge to curb methane emissions.

Firefighters fight one of Australia’s devastating forest fires in Hillville in November 2019.Sam Mooy / Getty Images File

Coal power then became a major point of contention in the closing hours of the conference when delegates from China and India insisted on watering down the final language of the COP26 deal and replacing the commitment to “phase out” coal with the term “phase out”. ”

And despite UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that Glasgow had effectively “rung the death knell for coal”, Morrison reiterated his country’s commitment after the summit, saying that the coal industry in Australia was going to “Decades come. ”

Australia’s lack of action on this issue is a bad example for other countries, said Merzian, “instead of driving ambitions like the USA and Great Britain”.

“They cover other stragglers like Russia and Turkey because they can look at Australia and say, ‘Look, if a wealthy industrialized country like Australia stops doing in the short term, why should I?'” He said.

Morrison has long been caught in a political bind because of climate change.

His government’s coalition partner, the National Party, is a strong supporter of the coal industry and has made several attempts to block the net-zero target, citing potential risks to the country’s economy.

Morrison is himself a well-known representative in the industry. As is well known, he brought a Lump of coal in the Australian Parliament in 2017 and praised their value with showman flair during a debate about renewable energies.

“Sadly, Australia’s climate policy has historically been dictated to some extent by the position of established interests in the oil, gas and coal industries,” and therefore it lags its global counterpart, Christian Downie, an associate professor at the Australian National University, who said specializes in energy and climate policy in the run-up to the conference.

At the same time, the country has been feeling the effects of climate change, which has helped put pressure on some voters to act more decisively.

Sixty percent of the respondents stated that “global warming is a serious and urgent problem” that should be addressed now, “even if it is associated with considerable costs,” according to a May 2021 survey by the Lowy Institute, an independent think tank in Australia.

Australia’s devastating forest fires in 2019-20 have been declared one of the “Worst Wildlife Disasters in Modern History” by the World Wild Fund for Nature.Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images File

Devastating forest fires in 2019-20 destroyed more than 44 million acres of land, killed 34 people and resulted in the loss of nearly 3,000 homes.

Nearly 3 billion koalas, kangaroos and other native Australian wildlife were killed or displaced by the forest fires, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature Australia.

And the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, has suffered so much from ocean warming that it has lost half of its corals in just 20 years.

Australia reacted angrily when the United Nations threatened to downgrade the reef’s status as a World Heritage Site unless the country did more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. just avoid the term after heavy lobbying.

Still, in a rating published at the COP26 summit, Australia came in last out of 60 countries for its policy response to the climate crisis.

“The country’s lack of inner ambition and action has found its way onto the international stage,” the Climate Change Performance Index Report said. “Australia has fallen behind its allies.”

A spokesman for Taylor, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, said the Australian government disapproves of the report’s “subjective” findings “because it clearly ignores key facts and statistics.”

Environmental activists have responded angrily at the lack of action in Glasgow.

Two young climate protesters disrupted the operation of the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia on November 17th by abseiling from the giant machines and declaring in a video live stream: “We are reacting to the climate crisis.”

For Ritter von Greenpeace Australia it is high time that the country stepped onto the world stage.

“Australia’s ruthless climate blockade is as brazen as it is terrifying,” he said. “A betrayal of our trust and a betrayal of our future.”

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