Crunch Time: How Climate Action in the 2020s Will Define Australia

14.12.21 By , , , , , and

Our future depends on urgent and decisive action to respond to the climate crisis in the 2020s, as scientific consensus makes clear our window to avoid catastrophe is closing.

In November 2021, governments from around the world convened at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) to respond to the rapidly escalating climate challenge. The pledges made at Glasgow have profound implications for the next Australian Government, particularly the need to promptly strengthen its 2030 emissions reduction target (UNFCCC 2021). A significantly stronger 2030 target will restore Australia’s international standing, and unlock economic opportunities for Australians in clean industries and exports. Most importantly, it will better align with the global goal to limit warming to 1.5°C, which would help protect Australians, our Pacific neighbours and the global community from catastrophic climate change.

The Australian Government arrived in Glasgow as an outlier among its international peers; one of just a handful of countries that failed to strengthen its 2030 target. It then failed to join a number of landmark pledges, including the Global Methane Pledge and a new UK-led commitment to phase out coalfired power. Instead, it used its presence in Glasgow to promote the continued burning of fossil fuels. It quickly became clear that the Australian Government had fallen even further out of step with the rest of the world. As a result, Australia’s international reputation took a further battering.

Multiple lines of evidence strongly suggest that we can no longer limit warming to 1.5°C without a temporary overshoot. The global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s (IPCC 2021). There’s little time left to limit global warming below catastrophic temperature rises. Breaching 1.5°C of warming significantly increases the risk of triggering abrupt, dangerous and irreversible changes to the climate system. Every fraction of a degree of avoided warming matters, and will be measured in lives, species and ecosystems saved. We must do everything possible to deeply and rapidly cut our emissions, while also preparing for climate impacts that can no longer be avoided. 

This briefing unpacks the key takeaways for Australia from the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, in particular the urgent need for Australia to catch up with the rest of the world. The only way to do this is with a strong 2030 target and a suite of credible climate policies that accelerates the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and electrification.

“Policy decisions made today are so important because our future depends on how quickly and decisively we respond to the climate challenge in the 2020s. So much is at stake: our whole way of life, our health, our livelihoods. Our window to avoid catastrophe is closing …We know that we must do everything possible to limit warming to 1.5C, and that this requires emissions to plummet this decade. We know that every fraction of a degree of avoided warming matters, and will be measured in lives, species and ecosystems saved.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie

Key Findings

1. The Morrison government’s weak 2030 target is out of step with the rest of Australia and the world; effectively setting us on a path towards catastrophic global warming.

2. Australia signed up to the Glasgow Climate Pact, which collectively commits the world to a 45% reduction in emissions this decade (relative to 2010 levels) and requires all countries to increase their 2030 emissions reduction targets.

3. The world has effectively called time on coal. Increasingly, countries are accelerating their shift away from fossil fuels, which will dry up demand for Australian fossil fuel exports.

4. Accelerating climate action at home will protect lives and livelihoods, and unlock Australia’s world-leading potential for clean industries and exports.