Biden’s ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’: What in the World is Australia doing?

22.04.21 By
This article is more than 3 years old

Update: President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate took place over April 22nd and 23rd with countries around the world submitting ambitious emissions reduction goals. All G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) have now committed to net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, and all have significantly strengthened their 2030 targets, but Australia has not. Here’s the summary:

President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate is taking place over April 22–23, bringing together 40 world leaders including the UK’s Boris Johnson, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, and our own PM, Scott Morrison. The virtual summit is a fresh opportunity for each nation to bolster and present their plans for climate action on the world stage.

The summit allows the United States to establish itself as a leader in climate action, announce a new emissions reduction target for 2030, plus corral action from other nations—which climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent some months rallying. So what can we expect to hear from the United States and other nations at the summit, and “where the bloody hell” is Australia? (Because we were invited this time.)

The United States

Global emissions need to plummet this decade. Most major economies have already made commitments to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, which while admirable, is likely at least a decade too late. Moreover, it’s the reductions achieved by 2030 that matter the most. It’s in this vein that the US will proceed, with Biden expected to announce an ambitious new target for 2030. Campaigners in the US have been calling for a target well north of 50% if the US is to do its part under the Paris Agreement and help limit warming to well below 2˚C.

These cuts, and the summit itself, are necessary action against climate change, but for the US they’re also symbolic—a systematic rewinding of the damage wrecked by Biden’s predecessor. They are part of a comprehensive plan of action by the Biden Administration that cuts across every government department, including making climate action a mainstay of US foreign policy. Given the significance of the summit, there are also suggestions that the US might “formally call for ending public financing for overseas coal projects and sharply [restrict] public support for natural gas”.

The UK, China, Canada, South Korea, and Japan

The United Kingdom, birthplace of industrialism, is leading the pack when it comes to emissions reductions, at least among the major economies. The UK recently strengthened its 2030 target, and is committed to reducing its emissions by 68% below 2005 levels by 2030. We’re expecting the UK to go a step further this week, and build on its 2030 target with a still stronger target for 2035.

Japan, South Korea, and Canada, historically some of the biggest customers of Australia’s coal and gas exports, have already joined the net zero by 2050 club. More importantly, all are poised to immediately step-up their actions, and to use the summit to announce a stronger 2030 target than they currently have on the table.

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is a vital part of the world’s response to climate change. China’s surprise commitment last year to achieving net zero emissions by 2060, and to ensuring its emissions peaked before 2030, was an important step. Though China, like almost all countries, will need to act much more quickly if we’re to avoid truly catastrophic climate change. Again, it’s the cuts achieved through the 2020s that matter the most. It’s for this reason that climate envoy John Kerry has paid a visit to Shanghai and President Xi to propose “China…cease building coal-fired power stations and…stop financing coal ventures abroad,” according to the BBC.


While almost every country needs to do more, and no one is expecting this week’s announcements to close the gap between current commitments and the true scale and action required to avoid a climate catastrophe, Australia stands on its own as being particularly out of step.

Alone among more than a hundred nations, Australia has no target for reaching net zero emissions. Meanwhile we’re quietly prying open new coal and gas projects across the country and continuing to subsidise fossil fuels. And when pushed for action on climate change, the Government announced a ‘gas-fired recovery’, a path to the future that happens to lean heavily on fossil fuels.

This isn’t what Australians want. Our country is one of the sunniest and windiest places in the world, and has all the ingredients of becoming a renewable superpower. Such a transition would drive our economy forward, create thousands of jobs, and place Australia as a leader in clean technology. Like the gas-fired recovery, other proposed solutions like ‘hydrogen hubs‘ or ‘carbon capture and storage‘ still take us on an expensive and regressive detour through fossil fuels, and are a true distraction from the real solution: renewables.

‘Net zero’ will be achieved by the united efforts of the country, but we need leadership at a Federal level. Australians want more renewables and action on climate change; every state and territory has set a net zero target, but we’re waiting on our Federal Government to step up. Our latest report, Aim High, Go Fast, lays out a clear recommendation: Australia needs to cut emissions by 75% by 2030, and reach net zero by 2035. The rest of the world is moving, and we need to get with the program!