The push and politics around committing to net zero by 2050

The push and politics around committing to net zero by 2050

By Rod Mitchell – National Chair of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia

15 August 2021

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Rod Mitchell, National Chair of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia

IPCC report renews warnings about climate inaction

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the most comprehensive scientific report in history on the impending impacts of climate change on the future of the planet. The news on the rate of global warming that has happened – and is predicted to happen in the coming decades – was alarming. Yet, despite Australia being most at risk, despite calls from business, industry, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Medical Association, other nations, and despite all States and Territories having committed, the Australian Federal Government remains one of the few developed economies in the world yet to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (NZE2050).

Australia’s emissions are unsustainably high

In Tokyo we equalled our best ever Olympic gold medal haul. On the contrary, the UN Sustainable Development Report 2021 ranked Australia last out of 193 UN member countries for action taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the lead up to the release of the IPCC report, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia (CCLA) signed onto a joint statement with a coalition of more than 50 large and small climate organisations. It called for immediate and urgent climate action from the Federal Government, including an almost tripling of our emissions reduction targets for 2030. In fact, CCLA’s own analysis shows that emissions reduction needs to quadruple for Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Starting immediately, Australia should increase its emissions reduction from 4.1 Mt CO2 (millions of tons of carbon dioxide) per year – the average yearly rate of reduction since the Coalition came into office in 2013 – to 17 Mt CO2 per year.

Set the 2050 target now!

Is 2050 too late to achieve net zero emissions? The science says that achieving net zero emissions globally by 2050 would make it possible to contain the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But the longer we delay, the greater the emissions reduction rate required and the slimmer the chances of keeping global warming under control.

After more than a decade of ‘climate wars’, the political barrier to a more ambitious 2030 target  is currently high. Without any Federal commitment to net zero by 2050, locking this in now is the first and necessary step.

The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference – to be held in Glasgow this November – provides the ideal deadline and platform for the Prime Minister and the Coalition to be nudged by all sectors of the Australian community to join with other nations in this commitment.

Our ask

A bipartisan and legislated commitment to a 2050 target is critical in order to set accountable and appropriate action, without the risk of policy reversals when there is a change of government.  For example, in the UK a legislated target with bipartisan support has been in place for more than a decade. There, the Conservative government generally accepts and implements the recommendations of the independent Climate Change Committee, with the support of the Labour opposition.

This is why CCLA’s aim for a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 comes with the additional ask that the commitment be bipartisan and federally legislated with a clearly documented process for achieving it. For the same reason, CCLA supports the proposed (Steggall) Climate Change Bill, which would provide both legislation and an independent commission to advise on how to get to net zero.

How to meet the target? We’ve got a plan

While we at CCLA agree that the 2030 targets are very important, we are also clear that asking for the 2050 commitment is the correct strategy in the current political situation. Once NZE2050 is legislated, the need for a 2030 target and other science-based targets becomes immediately necessary. At that point we will put forward the Australian Climate Dividend as a vital tool for getting to zero, whatever the date.

Action fuelled by hope & hope fuelled by action

We will continue to adjust our strategy as the political situation evolves, particularly when Australia’s position at the UN Climate Change Conference will be announced this November. In the meantime, our 100 Days of Action campaign will continue to build support for a bipartisan and legislated commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, at the latest.  

The good news is that there are some small glimmers of hope on which our advocacy can build. Several members of both the Liberal and National parties are calling for a national 2050 commitment with a strategy for achieving it released by the COP2 Glasgow conference in November.

Now more than ever, a 2050 net zero emissions target in Australia is more a matter of when, rather than if. The sooner we establish it, the easier will be to achieve our final goal of a sustainable world for future generations.