Three of Australia’s biggest trading partners recently pledged to become’ carbon neutral ‘Experts say this is the biggest change in climate policy since the Paris agreement
To a national leader who had just been told that up to $ 80 billion in fossil fuel export industries were about to cut, Scott Morrison sounded remarkably optimistic
“I am not worried about our future exports,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference on Wednesday “I am very aware of the many views taking place around the world, but I tell you what – our policies will be defined here in Australia «
Morrison’s dismissive response was to a question about what observers see as the biggest change in international climate policy since the signing of the Paris agreement five years ago In the space of five weeks , three of Australia’s biggest trading partners – first China, then last week Japan and South Korea – pledged to become « carbon neutral » by 2050 or soon after
Longtime observers of climate change diplomacy have said the scale of what is happening should not be underestimated
« This is really important It shows that there is potential for hope – that we can really achieve what the Paris agreement is aiming for and limit warming to 15C, » says Ursula Fuentes, former head of the German government unit responsible for climate policy and strategy
« It’s hard to achieve, but it shows if we have leadership in some countries how quickly others can join in. It also shows Australia needs to start talking about economic transformation and introduce policies that will support this transformation, otherwise it will be left behind »
While the three countries have yet to explain in detail how they will achieve their goals, the economic ramifications for Australia are vast Together, the trio buy 75% of the thermal coal shipped to Australia used in the production of electricity, 50% of the coking coal used in steel production and 87% of its liquefied natural gas (LNG)
Analysts say this raises at least two important questions for the government. Will Morrison become a climate change pariah, increasingly diplomatically isolated and seen as unwilling to pull his weight?
Perhaps more importantly, will he plan for an inevitable economic transition before the fossil fuel industries and the national economy are beset by reality?
The Morrison government’s position thus far has been that climate change is a serious global problem that requires a global solution and that – despite significant evidence to the contrary – Australia is playing its part But rather than applauding it , its response to the announcement that some of the world’s largest emitters were promising to do more was to assert its sovereignty: it would not give in to pressure to honor the commitments it made in Paris
The pushback was both public and private In a Tuesday night appeal, Morrison turned down his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, when asked to subscribe to a net zero pledge for 2050
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in 2018, in a report commissioned under the Paris Agreement, that achieving zero net emissions by that date was a necessary element to responding to the climate emergency But Morrison told Johnson Australia would not agree to that target for himself
Sources close to the call said he instead asked the UK leader to support Australia’s approach of setting targets for reducing the cost of clean technology, which is neither tied to a timeline nor to an emissions reduction plan Johnson said he would consider it, but the press release issued by his office after the meeting stressed the importance of setting ambitious emissions targets and reaching net zero
During the Senate Estimates hearings that have dominated Parliament for the past fifteen weeks, Foreign Secretary Marise Payne has repeatedly refused to say Australia welcomes Japan and the United Kingdom. South Korea subscribing to net zero as they ostensibly wanted the world to meet that target Like many government climate claims, the inconsistency has remained unexplained
The rift between Australia and its major trading partners was highlighted in a report by a center-right think tank, the Blueprint Institute, linked to former Liberal ministers Robert Hill and Christopher Pyne, which warned that failing to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 harming the country’s international reputation and economic competitiveness He said if climate ambition is not increased soon, « the decision could be up to us. imposed ”
« For a while we were able to fall behind our peers with little impact on us or global temperatures, » says the « But the tide is turning » report
Britain has urged countries to step up commitments since it was announced that it will host the next big climate conference in Glasgow, now postponed until the end of next year. countries on two issues – a goal of net zero by mid-century and halting funding for coal-fired power plants in developing countries
Along with the UN, France, Chile and Italy, it will host an online climate summit in December to mark the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement and push for more action Alone countries armed with increased commitments will be invited to speak This should include China, which officials hope will use it to set the ambitious short-term goals scientists recommend, but not Australia
The announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the UN general assembly in September that the country’s carbon dioxide emissions would peak before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060 as a result surprised a lot
China is by far the world’s largest annual emitter – responsible for about half of the world’s coal consumption – and turning its economy around will be a colossal task But it has worked until then, after modeling what plan to limit warming to 15C would like last year Observers say this is a serious show of intent on Xi’s part, driven in part by a desire to get ahead of a possible U.S. presidency of Joe Biden, rather than risk the pressure of a joint US-EU climate push in 2021
Equally important, however, is the economic opportunity presented by the inevitable low-emission transition Ben Caldecott, director of the Oxford Sustainable Finance program and a leading voice in the UK campaign for greater global action, says it is « in China’s best interest to take this path »
He points out that the International Energy Agency, often criticized for its conservatism in forecasting the development of renewable energy, recently described solar energy as the cheapest form of energy in the history of humanity China should include a focus on climate, possibly including targets to cap coal use and lift renewable energy, in its five-year economic plan due before the end of the year
“These countries are all vying to shape their own economic future and that of the world,” says Caldecott “Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, and change is happening and will not stop. question is simply, « what’s the plan? » «
The announcement of Japan, the world’s fifth largest broadcaster, was equally surprising and heavily influenced by Chinese engagement The new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, took advantage of his first parliamentary policy speech since taking office to declare that the climate crisis was no longer a constraint on economic growth, but an opportunity to be seized
Japan is heavily dependent on energy imports – it’s Australia’s largest market for thermal coal and LNG – and under Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe was seen as a recalcitrant player on the climate. continued to support new coal power as other developed countries shut down
But the country is also investing heavily in large offshore wind farms and testing the use of green ammonia, created with renewable energies, as an alternative fuel in a coal-fired power plant
Llewelyn Hughes, associate dean at the College of Asia and the Pacific at Australian National University and specialist in Japan, says the 2050 target is important because it sets the direction for government agencies and businesses in their thinking on future policies and viable investments Already a number of planned coal-fired power plants in Japan have been canceled and it will become much more difficult for others to secure financing A new three-year energy plan, to be released in the middle of next year, is expected to support a greater share of renewables compared to coal and gas.
Japan and South Korea, which this week confirmed they will take action to end its dependence on coal and support a new multibillion-dollar green deal, envision a future that includes green hydrogen – an industry the Morrison government hopes to develop, although it also potentially supports hydrogen made from fossil fuels, a step some countries are bypassing
The rush of the major Asian powers to adhere to net zero follows similar commitments from other countries and in particular from the EU, which weighs a target of up to 60% reduction by 2030 compared to to 1990 levels, and will consider a proposal on carbon border tariffs – which would add a border cost to carbon-intensive products – next year
The sense of momentum will shift to overdrive if Biden, who has pledged to go net zero, invest $ 2 billion in clean solutions over four years, and take an active role in the global climate leadership, defeats Donald Trump in the US presidential election election A diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Australia would be « supremely isolated » on climate and would face significant pressure to change position if Biden won
Hare agrees, saying that if Australia continues on its current path it risks ending up with countries that blatantly refuse to act, like Brazil and Saudi Arabia. But he says the country should be particularly concerned about the economic fallout
“The reality is that the transition from coal to gas is going to happen a lot faster than Labor’s Scott Morrison thinks, and it’s going to be extremely disruptive,” he said. work will be blocked This is why what is happening in Australia is so irresponsible «
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