Australia’s emissions policies savaged by experts ahead of COP28 climate summit

By Tracey Ferrier, AAP 24 November 2023
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Experts have savaged Australia’s efforts to rein in domestic emissions, pointing to a litany of failures and calling for a radical reset.

Nations will convene in Dubai next week in the full knowledge efforts to limit climate change are failing dismally.

The latest United Nations report on the emissions gap warns the world is hurtling towards 2.5 to 2.9C of warming.

That’s far beyond the Paris climate pact’s targets of 1.5 to 2C – targets meant to shield humanity from the worst effects of a warming world.

Experts say the honeymoon is over after Labor’s election win 18 months ago, and the Australian government can expect serious scrutiny at the COP28 climate summit when it begins on Thursday.

University of Queensland economics professor John Quiggin suggests not much has changed since the ousting of the Morrison government, with Labor promising only marginal improvements and ongoing approvals for new coal and gas.

“Australia’s position in my view, is almost entirely untenable … Australia really needs radical changes in terms of its domestic emissions,” he said.

He savaged attempts to cut emissions by 43 per cent this decade “largely through offsets which are almost entirely spurious”.

“While we are attempting – at least notionally – to comply with our domestic emissions targets, we’re also expanding coal production with an explicit government statement that we expect coal exports to continue beyond 2050,” he said.

“We are licensing mines whose economic viability really depends on that.”

He said there’d been no real action on transport sector emissions, and it was time to abandon the idea that the preservation of the national electricity market should take priority over achieving climate goals. 

“I think it’s clear that the national electricity market has been a comprehensive failure.”

Related: World’s leading climate body paints a picture of a planet in turmoil

Melbourne University’s Jackie Peel, an expert in environmental and climate change law, says there was relief at last year’s COP that Australia had a new government with improved climate ambitions.

“But that aura of wonderfulness is fading,” Professor Peel said.

She says other nations will be looking for much more from Australia, given its ambitions to co-host the COP31 UN climate conference with Pacific island nations in 2026.

Pacific nations have made their feelings on that very clear.

Pacific elders including former national leaders recently ran an ad campaign saying support for the bid should be withheld until Australia stops expanding fossil fuels.

The world is tracking above targets meant to shield humanity from global warming’s worst effects.  Image credit: shutterstock

The two professors also rounded on carbon capture and storage as a purported solution for carbon emissions at the point of production.

Prof Quiggin called it a dead duck, with all attempts at retrofitting infrastructure failing.

Australian National University’s Mark Howden, who has co-authored major UN reports on climate change, agrees.

And he’s also questioned the economic rationale of trying to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it up in various ways, including in the landscape, the sea and in geological formations.

“Generally speaking, most of these are either limited in scope, or they have significant negative consequences, or they’re very expensive or some combination of those,” Prof Howden said.

He says a price on carbon would be more effective and cheaper.

“Economically, it doesn’t make much sense. But politically, having a way out, such as carbon capture and storage or carbon dioxide removal, sometimes looks quite attractive because you can have your cake and eat it too.”

Related: ‘It can be done. It must be done’: IPCC delivers definitive climate change report