climate

Australia Is the Best in the World at Screwing Up Climate Action

If there’s one thing Australia’s good at, it’s shitting the bed with fossil fuels.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
power plant
Yet another report has ranked Australia one of the worst countries at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photo by John W Banagan, via Getty Images

Australia’s shameful refusal to pursue a meaningful response to the climate crisis is, by now, something of an open secret. We suck at cutting carbon emissions, stubbornly refuse to budge on our paltry reduction targets and, even in the face of some of the world’s worst climate-related natural disasters, continue to double-down on our problematic relationship with fossil fuels. You could say we’re not even trying to hide it anymore – and the rest of the world is fast cottoning on.

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Last month, UN Special Adviser on Climate Change, Selwin Hart, joined a growing chorus of voices calling for Australia's government to adopt more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The biggest requests: ditch coal and embrace renewable energy. 

Last week, following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s suggestion that he may not attend November’s Glasgow Climate Change Conference, a crowdfunding campaign by an Australian comedian ended with the biggest billboard in New York’s Times Square broadcasting the country’s less-than-impressive climate policies in high-definition LED.

Now a new report by the Climate Council has found that Australia remains the worst performing of all the world’s developed countries when it comes to cutting emissions and progressing beyond fossil fuels. 

The report looked at 31 wealthy developed countries and assessed their emissions reduction performance and pledges, based on a range of metrics including changes in emissions since 1990, emissions per person in 2019 and emissions per person under the 2030 target. Importantly, it looked not only at domestic consumption but also international exports of fossil fuels – something Australia loves to do.

Of those 31 countries, Australia ranked 31st, New Zealand ranked 30th and Iceland ranked 29th. Australia also ranked equal last for its extraction and use of fossil fuels.

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“Since [the Paris Agreement], Australia’s strategic allies and biggest trading partners have substantially strengthened their commitments. In contrast, Australia is standing still and risks missing out on the economic opportunities of the global energy transition,” the report stated. 

“Australia is a fossil fuel giant, with coal and gas industries that are among the world’s biggest drivers of climate change … For the first time, Australia’s traditional allies and closest security partners, as well as our neighbours, are universally and explicitly calling for Australia to lift its 2030 emission reduction target.”

Australia’s current pledge under the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by at least 26 percent by 2030. The country has not set a deadline for net zero.

The Climate Council recommended that Australia reduce its emissions 75 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve net zero by 2035. “As a first step,” the report’s authors added, “Australia should match the updated commitments of our key allies (including the US and the UK) and pledge before Glasgow to at least halve national emissions this decade.”

This isn’t the first time Australia has found itself near the bottom of the ladder in terms of climate action.

The 2019 Brown to Green report, billed as “the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action,” found that Australia was among the worst of all G20 nations in terms of its response to climate change – due to lack of policy, reliance on fossil fuels and rising emissions. While the report didn’t provide an overall ranking, Australia was consistently among the worst performers in key sectors such as approaches to greenhouse gas emissions, transport emissions, and deforestation.

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Similarly, in early July 2021, the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network looked at the performance of 193 UN member countries and found that Australia exported more CO2 emissions as fossil fuels than every other nation except Qatar and Norway. In 2020, the Network’s annual Sustainable Development Report found that Australia was the world’s second worst in terms of climate action, ranked only ahead of Brunei. In 2021, Australia came dead last. 

Not the most inspiring accolades for a nation that flaunts itself as a natural wonderland.

This latest report from the Climate Council comes just a day after France’s ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, called on the nation’s federal government to pursue more significant climate action and match some of the commitments made by Australian state governments, all of which have committed to net zero by 2050. 

“What we need now is to have all of these energies, investment prospects, and initiatives supported by the right set of policies and ambitious short term and long term targets so that Australia can demonstrate its commitment to climate change, and reap the full benefits of the new climate economy,” Thebault said. “Climate action is not only a moral responsibility, it is a complete transformation of our economies, societies … There is no plan B in the same way that there is no second planet.”

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