UN Urges Climate Laggard Australia to Set Emissions Target

Australia should join its Group of 20 counterparts in committing to a net zero emissions target “as a matter of urgency,” the United Nations’ chief climate adviser will tell a conference in Canberra on Monday. 

“If G20 countries, including Australia, choose business-as-usual, climate change will soon send Australia’s high living standards up in flames,” Selwin Hart, the UN’s special adviser to the secretary general on climate action, said in prepared remarks. Failure to act would see Australia suffer more frequent and severe climate events such as droughts, heatwaves, fires and floods.  

National governments responsible for 73% of global emissions have now committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, “and we urge Australia to join them as a matter of urgency,” Hart said. There is growing international pressure on Australia to ramp up its climate efforts ahead of the COP26 Glasgow summit later this year. The government has resisted calls at home and abroad to commit to net zero, focusing instead on promoting new technologies to cut pollution.  

Australia is the world’s third-biggest emitter on a per capita basis, with coal still accounting for around 60% of its power generation. The country has been adding solar and wind capacity at a rapid pace in recent years, undermining the economics of aging coal-fired plants. Meanwhile, the government says planned energy market reforms to prevent the potential early closure of those plants are necessary to safeguard grid security. 

“If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy,” Hart said, noting that Secretary General Antonio Guterres had called for OECD countries to phase out the most polluting fossil fuel by 2030. 

The transition to clean energy represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity which Australia should embrace, Hart said. The country’s skilled workforce and strong education and training system makes it well equipped to be a leader in that transition, he added. 

Hart also urged developed nations to honor a decade-old pledge of $100 billion annually to help developing countries take climate action, noting that vulnerable island nations in the Pacific look to Australia for leadership.

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