Climate change: Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050

  • Published
Related Topics
Media caption,

PM Scott Morrison sets out "a uniquely Australian way" of meeting climate commitments

Leading global coal and gas supplier Australia has pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison however said the plan would not include ending Australia's fossil fuel sectors.

The nation will also not set ambitious targets for 2030 - an objective of next month's COP26 global climate summit.

His plan has drawn criticism, with Murdoch University fire ecology expert Joe Fontaine saying it had "all the strength of a wet paper bag".

Australia has long dragged its heels on climate action. It has some of the highest emissions per head of population and is a massive exporter of fossil fuels.

Strategic allies the US and UK have both pledged to cut emissions faster. The UK has pledged that all its electricity will come from renewable sources by 2035, while the US has announced plans to halve its emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

"We won't be lectured by others who do not understand Australia. The Australian Way is all about how you do it, and not if you do it. It's about getting it done," Mr Morrison wrote in a newspaper column on Tuesday.

To halt the worst effects of climate change, nations have pledged to limit rising temperatures to 1.5C by 2050.

This requires cutting emissions by 45% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, scientists say. Over 100 nations have committed to carbon neutrality.

Net zero means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is achieved by a combination of cutting emissions as much as possible - mainly by reducing gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), which are released in the use of fossil fuels - and so-called offsetting measures, such as planting trees and carbon-capture technology.

What has Australia promised?

Mr Morrison announced an investment of more than A$20bn (£11bn; $15bn) in "low-emissions technologies" over the next 20 years - such as efforts to capture carbon in soil, lower solar energy costs, and developing greener industries.

But Australia will also use more gas, at least in the short term. Most controversially, there is no plan to limit fossil fuels.

"We want our heavy industries, like mining, to stay open, remain competitive and adapt, so they remain viable for as long as global demand allows," Mr Morrison wrote.

Australia's 2030 commitment will remain a 26% cut on 2005 emissions. It is currently on track for a 30-35% reduction, the government said.

While the 2050 pledge has been widely welcomed, the government has been ferociously criticised for not offering more details.

Australia's Climate Council think tank said it was "a joke without strong emissions cuts this decade".

Many said the government has been too slow on climate action, despite seeing first-hand impacts such as bushfires, floods and drought.

"The word plan doesn't constitute a plan no matter how many times you say it," said Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

Scott Morrison's announcement is worth noting not because it offers anything different to other countries, but because of how late to the party Australia is!

This announcement took months of political wrangling and was left down to the wire with days before the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

That the government had to make political concessions to its junior coalition partner - the National Party - shows you how complicated and politically divisive climate action is in Australia.

The Nationals represent electorates in regional areas where most high-emission industries like coal mining are based. After days of toing and froing, they backed the 'process'.

The prime minister assured Australians the target will not mean paying more for their energy bills. "Technology not taxes," he said.

He addressed regional Australians directly and said the plan won't involve shutting down coal and gas production or exports. He talked about billions of dollars invested in low-emission technologies. The government's plan would "strike a balance", Mr Morrison said.

But he failed to explain how this balance will be struck. How the government will square keeping its coal industry, for example, and reaching net zero by 2050 - and what role technology will play in all of that. Especially when Canberra won't budge on its much-criticised 2030 targets.

While this is a big moment for Australia, the details are still murky and potentially problematic on how net zero will be achieved.

The COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow in November is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions, and it could lead to major changes to our everyday lives.