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Australia’s climate targets a major blow for Pacific neighbours

Vlad Sokhin/Panos/OxfamAUS

By GROW Campaign Lead, Ula Majewski
Let’s start with some good news, eh? In the weeks since we last blogged, and with just a few months before governments come together in Paris to finalise a crucial new global climate agreement, the momentum in international action on climate change has kicked up another notch.

This includes:

  • the United States (US) announcing new regulations to drive down emissions from its power sector
  • more countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, coming forward with strong new climate action plans
  • corporate giants like Apple and Google pledging new efforts to tackle climate change; and
  • more and more people like you around the world stepping up to join the fight

But here in Australia we have a problem.

Not only has the Australian Government taken a back seat in the global response to climate change — waiting until every other developed country had announced their post-2020 carbon emission reduction targets before releasing its own — but, when they did finally make their announcement today, the proposed target was woefully inadequate.

The government’s provisional commitment (and note the word provisional here — more on this later) is to cut Australia’s carbon pollution by a mere 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030. This is completely out of step with other rich countries, including the US and European Union members.

Our commitment would leave Australia in 2030 with among the highest emissions per person in the world, and the most carbon-intensive economy among developed nations. But more importantly, it falls way short of what is necessary to keep global warming well below 2°C.

Already, with current warming of around 1°C, we are seeing the world’s poorest countries and communities facing enormous challenges from climate change. Rising seas are swallowing land and homes in low-lying countries like Kiribati. Earlier this year deadly heatwaves claimed thousands of lives in India and Pakistan. In March, Cyclone Pam — a disaster likely to have been exacerbated by climate change — brought devastation to Vanuatu and other Pacific nations. And around the world, changing weather patterns are making it harder for families to grow and buy enough food to eat. Unless we keep temperatures well below 2°C, more and more communities will be forced beyond their ability to adapt.

To be blunt, our government has decided the interests of a handful of ageing industries are more important than those of the majority of Australians and communities around the world.

With such a meagre commitment the government appears unmoved by the increasingly bleak future facing many Pacific nations and other vulnerable communities. Nations already dealing with some of harshest impacts of climate change. But it also appears blind to the consequences for Australia. With our large agricultural sector and coastal population, Australia is particularly vulnerable among developed countries. And when it comes to jobs and our future prosperity, we have so much to gain by riding the global transition to renewable energy. The alternative, to remain a polluting backwater, will cost us dearly.

To put Australia’s contribution in perspective, the Marshall Islands — a developing country that bears almost no historical responsibility for climate change and has only a fraction of the economic capability of Australia — has committed to cut its carbon pollution by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach zero emissions by mid-century.

If, as it claims, our government is committed to the internationally agreed goal of keeping warming below 2°C, then the only explanation for putting forward such a meagre emissions reduction target appears to be that they believe other countries should do more.

This isn’t right. Not only do we have among the highest emissions per person in the world, we also have enormous renewable energy potential. This means we have far more scope to reduce our emissions at a low cost when compared to most other countries.

Given all this, we argue that Australia should cut its carbon pollution by at least 45% below 2005 levels by 2025.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We don’t have to accept our government’s current targets. They are an initial offer ahead of the Paris climate talks. Government decisions do change and these targets can change if the government comes under enough pressure. There’s certainly still time for Australia to lift its game and commit to a stronger target in Paris. But it’s down to us to call these current targets for what they are: completely inadequate.

With a Federal election on the horizon, we have the power to demonstrate that no government is electable unless it has a strong and visionary platform on climate change. This includes a strong plan for the rapid transformation of the Australian economy towards zero emissions (well before mid-century), and far more support for developing countries enabling them to meet the existing challenges of climate change.

We’re all in this together. Start by taking action to show our political leaders that you are searching for real leadership on climate change.