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Britain’s top climate adviser calls Australia’s ‘net zero’ emissions plan unrealistic

Coal-rich Australia has unveiled a much-delayed 2050 net zero emissions target, but shied away from setting more ambitious goals ahead of a landmark UN climate summit. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY — Britain’s climate change adviser slammed a last-minute commitment by Australia ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, saying it lacks the action items needed to deliver on that pledge.

Most countries are beginning to recognize “just how serious climate change is,” John Gummer, the U.K. Climate Change Committee chair, said Saturday, citing the renewed determination of the United States under President Biden and programs by Japan and South Korea to achieve the 2050 target.

“Not all leaders are like that,” Gummer, known as Lord Deben, told a BBC panel. “I’m afraid that if you look at Scott Morrison from Australia, we’ve squeezed out of him a commitment to net zero in 2050, but there’s no indication at the moment that he’s got a proper program for that.”

The plan unveiled by the Australian government last week didn’t set any tougher emissions targets for 2030 — a major component in what scientists have said will be needed from world leaders at the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. It promised jobs but no new taxes or mandates, and relies largely on future technology “breakthroughs” to meet the target.

Australia pivots on climate with 2050 net zero target, but won’t adopt steeper 2030 commitment

Australia is one of the highest per capita carbon emitters, and one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters. It is also is on the front lines of climate change, with soaring temperatures, droughts and wildfires sweeping the country in recent years.

Under the plan, which Morrison called “uniquely Australian,” the dependence on fossil fuels will continue, offset by still-evolving technologies such as carbon capture and storage that climate groups say will never be a “zero-emissions” solution — especially when attached to highly polluting coal and gas projects.

“It’s very sad that a great country like Australia should change our climate,” Gummer said. “Because that’s what happens. If you allow people to keep on doing this, it’s our climate as well as theirs that’s changed.”

National climate pledges are too weak to avoid catastrophic warming. Most countries are on track to miss them anyway.

Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, has been identified as one of the developed nations most vulnerable to climate change. Since records began in 1910, Australia’s average surface temperature has warmed by 1.4 degrees Celsius. Extreme weather events — such as storms, droughts, wildfires, heat waves and floods — are becoming more frequent and severe.

Australia isn’t alone in the challenges it will face in delivering on its net-zero promises. An analysis of national climate pledges by Climate Action Tracker, an independent international collaboration of climate scientists, shows the policies of many countries are inconsistent with their public pledges to cut greenhouse gases, The Washington Post reported.

Those pledges, in turn, are mostly too weak to collectively meet the goals forged as part of the 2015 Paris agreement: to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and, if possible, stop at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

For its part, Britain has announced ambitious climate targets for 2030 and 2035 to help achieve net zero by 2050 and is among a handful of countries where the overall climate commitment is “nearly sufficient” to meet the Paris agreement’s 1.5C temperature limit, according to Climate Action Tracker. To meet its high goals, British citizens will need to make major changes to the way they heat their homes; how many electric cars they buy; and how they farm and protect peatlands.

A total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net-zero target. This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of global GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 percent of global emissions.

However, the United Nations has warned these promises are “vague” and inconsistent with most 2030 national commitments.

There is a “serious risk” that the Glasgow climate conference “will not deliver,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres told reporters ahead of a weekend meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized nations.