“Australia is back as a constructive, positive and willing climate collaborator,” Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen told the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) on November 15.
But how true is this?
“While the Minister’s acknowledgement of the terrible costs of climate change and his commitment to keeping 1.5°C alive are welcome, these are just words,” said the Climate Council’s (CC) Nicki Hutley, who is at COP27 in Egypt.
“The Minister [in his speech] has side-stepped the critical need to phase out Australia’s fossil fuels and step up its commitment to global climate finance. This is a missed opportunity and leaves several critical gaps in Australia’s climate policy armoury.”
Bowen did not sign the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition, which commits to “end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022”. New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States have already signed.
Signing this would indicate Australia’s support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency’s analysis that to stay within the 1.5°C warming limit, “the global production and use of unabated fossil fuels must decrease significantly by 2030”.
Yet, Bowen claimed he was standing up for “for the Pacific family, for our farmers paying the price of climate change [and] for the Australians facing ever-increasing risk of flood and bushfire”.
But these very voices want Australia to stop new fossil fuel mining and help address catastrophic climate change that is already obliterating their nations.
Bowen smugly told the Australian Financial Review before he left for Egypt that the continued use of gas is “inevitable” and that there is a use for carbon capture and storage, even though no such project is delivering on the scale and timeframe the climate emergency demands.
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) were among many sounding the alarm at such phoney climate “solutions” at COP27.
Campaigners from the Global South say that as rich countries are responsible for the overwhelming majority of excess emissions causing the climate catastrophe, they must help the world’s poorest by paying compensation and enabling public finance for clean energy alternatives, such as solar and wind.
Dipti Bhatnagar from FoEI Mozambique said: “Rich countries must do their fair share to address the climate crisis, through cutting their emissions and providing long overdue climate finance for adaptation, and for loss and damage".
They must go “way beyond their weak and unmet commitment” of US$100 billion in climate finance, Bhatnagar said.
Jason Hickel said in Lancet Planetary Health that, as of 2015, the US was responsible for 40% of excess global CO2 emissions, the European Union 29%, and G8 nations (the US, EU, Russia, Japan and Canada) 85%.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has identified the rich industrialised countries of the Global North as being responsible for 90% of excess emissions. It found that most countries in the Global South are within their boundary fair shares.
“We have had enough of these phoney ‘net zero’ pledges, which only allow polluters to continue polluting,” Bhatnagar said.
She said COP26’s decision to “go full steam ahead with carbon markets” was wrong because the Global South now has to deal with “an onslaught of land grabs for offsets”.
Bhatnagar warned that “geoengineering — dangerous, unproven technologies aimed at removing carbon from the atmosphere” could sneak into the COP agreement.
“We need real emissions cuts, a massive scale-up of public climate finance and a swift and just transition to renewable energy for everyone,” she said.
Responsibility for the climate emergency must also be borne by the Global North because it has the means to make a fast transition.
The 17th annual Global Carbon Budget said CO2 emissions had risen this year, above pre-pandemic levels.
The world has already warmed 1.3°C and many scientists suggest temperatures could exceed 1.5°C within a decade. They also said stopping all new fossil fuels projects, rapidly phasing out fossil fuel energy plants and protecting forests and wetlands would allow the world a chance of staying within 1.5°C.
Incredibly, Bowen told COP27 that if Australia was to be co-host of COP31 with Pacific nations in 2026, it would lift its game.
CC research director Simon Bradshaw said if Canberra wants support for it to host COP31, it “needs to do more to move beyond coal and gas and to support vulnerable communities in coping with the impacts of climate change”.
Australia still trails most other developed economies, as the Climate Change Performance Index made clear. In addition to refusing to start curbing coal and gas production, the federal Labor government is yet to provide “anything close to a fair share of international climate finance” — a fact the EU made public.
The CC wants Labor to: increase its commitment to international climate finance to $3 billion over 2020–25; support a new global fund to address permanent loss and damage from climate change; make clear its 43% emissions reduction target is just a starting point; join those countries that have set a clear deadline for exiting coal; and immediately end public finance for fossil fuels.