Australia’s Newfound Climate Ambitions Ignore an Inconvenient Truth

Australia’s Newfound Climate Ambitions Ignore an Inconvenient Truth
A train loaded with coal passes near the Liddell and Bayswater coal-powered thermal power station near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Australia, Nov. 2, 2021 (AP photo by Mark Baker).

At the upcoming United Nations COP 27 Climate Change Conference, which kicks off next week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the 198 countries that are parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change will try to come to grips with how to achieve climate stability. More than 70 countries, including the world’s biggest emitters—China, the U.S. and the European Union—have pledged to achieve “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, the target needed to achieve the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But setting a target is one thing—developing a viable implementation strategy is another. Each year the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP, produces an Emissions Gap report tracking the distance between a pathway that would achieve the 1.5 C goal and the pathway resulting from current national targets and policies. This year’s report, released at the end of October, found that even if they are fully implemented, current pledges will put the world on a warming pathway of 2.4-2.6 C.

On the one hand, this is good news. Not long ago, U.N. agencies and scientists warned that if the world continued with business-as-usual emissions, 4 C, 6 C and even 8 C of warming were possible. So the current crop of net-zero pledges has shifted the needle substantially. National governments are clearly signaling an increasing level of ambition with regard to their emissions targets. And each tenth of a degree of warming prevented is significant in terms of large-scale impacts on people and ecosystems.

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