Australia is usually known for its beautiful beaches, koalas, and kangaroos. However, it has become the villain of COP26 climate talks. This year’s negotiations are taking place in Bonn, Germany from November 6-17th with the main agenda being to design a rulebook on how countries will carry out commitments they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Australia is one of these countries that committed to making emissions cuts by 2030 in order to meet their goal under Paris Agreement. The problem is that Australia has not yet enacted legislation or taken any steps towards meeting this commitment which means they have not done anything at all since 2014! The lack of action taken by Australia has been frustrating many other delegates in Bonn who feel they are holding back the negotiations because their lack of progress makes them a negative example.
“Australia is really doing nothing,” said Tasneem Essop from WWF. “They have no intention to ramp up ambition and that’s been clear from when [the new prime minister] Mr. Turnbull first got into power.”
Essop is referring to the change in ruling party which has led to a shift towards more conservative policies among other things.
“I think what we are seeing is Australia playing out its domestic political agenda here at this meeting,” said former negotiator Tristan Sender who now works with the Australia Institute. “If it means that we break a few crockery here and upset other countries that’s apparently fine because we need to send a message back to our voters that we’re taking this issue seriously.”
Australia’s lack of action is especially frustrating considering they are one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters per capita. In fact, on a per capita basis they are the second highest emitter in the world after Qatar and before Luxembourg. For reference, back in 1990 Australia emitted an average of 0.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person while Qatar topped this number at 2.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person.
Australia’s lack of action is also making it difficult to achieve what many other countries want to see from the negotiations. By 2020 a few things need to be accomplished in order for there to be a successful outcome at this year’s COP. One is that the Paris Agreement needs to enter into force which means 55 states representing over 55% of global emissions must have ratified or accepted it. This is a difficult task for the agreement to accomplish in such a short amount of time which means there needs to be progress on other issues during COP26. The second thing that must happen by 2020 is that countries need to have an initial plan on how they will meet their individual pledges. By mid-century, according to climate scientists, global warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees celsius. The current pledges will not accomplish this goal and instead put the world on track for 3 degrees of warming which some scientists predict could lead to Earth’s destruction as we know it.
While some countries like Japan and New Zealand have taken steps towards increasing their ambition, Australia has done nothing since 2014 when they canceled their carbon tax.
“This isn’t a country that’s going to go backwards from a climate change perspective,” said the head of Australia’s delegation, Patrick Suckling, “We’re going forwards.” He is referring to the creation of a new energy policy that will cut emissions by 26-28% which he claims makes them an international leader on climate change. However, this plan has been criticized as not being credible by the opposition party and experts from other countries who believe that Australia will actually increase their emissions by 2030 under this new energy policy.
“The fight against climate change is a critical element of our commitment to preserve and renew the environmental goods provided by nature,” said Suckling. “We’re demonstrating our commitment and we’ll continue to do so.”
However, the opposition party leader has made it clear that he will reverse this policy as soon as he can if his country wins the next election which means Australia will once again be doing nothing with regards to climate change even though they claim otherwise.
“The world would like to see some senior Australian ministers here,” said Greens climate spokeswoman Larissa Waters. “It’s not the coal industry that is going to save the Great Barrier Reef, and it’s not Malcolm Turnbull and his ministerial appointments either.”