The UN Secretary-General has given everyone a stern telling-off at a UN climate summit for continuing to pursue policies that are making our climate unlivable.
“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening — but we are decades behind,” Antonio Guterres said at the start of the one-day summit.
“We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”
The meeting is the final international climate summit before November, when COP28 kicks off in Dubai and countries will be expected to pledge more fossil fuel reductions.
34 countries were invited to speak at the event on the basis that they have actually submitted new climate action pledges. Those countries include Brazil, Canada, Pakistan, South Africa, and Tuvalu. Notably absent? America, China, and, of course, Australia.
Neither President Joe Biden nor President Xi Jinping attended the conference. Anthony Albanese also did not make it, although Foreign Minister Penny Wong was there and was questioned over her government’s record on climate.
“Australia has been a very fossil fuel intensive economy. That is the reality. So part of what we are having to do is transition a carbon-intensive economy to a clean energy economy and that is a big task,” Wong told CNN.
Is Australia moving fast enough away from fossil fuels? Australian Foreign Minister @SenatorWong says that because “Australia has been a very fossil fuel intensive economy,” transitioning away is “a big task.” But, she adds, “we will be by 2030 in excess of 80% renewable energy.” pic.twitter.com/JEJtBpj7kF
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) September 19, 2023
She also referred to the fact that other nations are opening coal-fired power stations, as Australia pushes our own well beyond their intended life cycle:
“We have a very ambitious set of targets. We will be, by 2030, in excess of 80% of renewable energy. When we came to government, we were just over 30%. That’s a big transition in a short space of time,” Wong continued.
The issue with “targets,” no matter how ambitious they are, is that they’re virtually meaningless if you do nothing to achieve them. As the Australia Institute has shown, Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are actually rising, not falling, and have been since March of 2021. Since 2005, our emissions have actually only dropped 1.4% and this does not include the offshore emissions generated by burning coal that we sell to other nations.
The targets themselves, which are unlikely to be hit, aren’t even ambitious enough to stop the Earth from warming to dangerous levels. Climate groups have attacked Australia’s “lack of ambition” at the UN climate summit by saying that the current hot weather should be motivating the government to act quickly.
“This week we have seen a heat wave and fires in eastern Australia just after winter finished. This follows catastrophic fires across the northern hemisphere in the last few months. People die from climate change disasters caused by burning coal and gas. Australians die,” said Dr Barry Traill, Director of Solutions for Climate Australia, in a media statement.
“We are now in a genuine global crisis. But the Australian Government is showing no indications of dealing with our exports of coal and gas.”
The group is just one of the more than 200 scientists and experts who have signed an open letter to the Australian government calling on them to accelerate climate action, “not climate annihilation.” The letter was published in a full-page ad in The New York Times.
As the Aus Govt tries to tell the UN Climate Ambition Summit how much action it's taking on climate change, back home they're opening new gas & coal mines.
— Australia Institute (@TheAusInstitute) September 19, 2023
Currently, the Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, is in court on the side of two coal mining companies after the Environment Council of Central Queensland challenged her decision to open two new coal mines in NSW.
The non-profit group has outlined their case in the Federal Court in Melbourne where they claim Plibersek’s refusal to consider the climate impact of her decision is unlawful.
The mines in Narrabri and the Hunter Valley are expansions of existing mines that dig up thermal coal for electricity production. They are two of the four coal projects the Environment Minister has approved in the past eight months.
“If we are to have a hope of turning around the escalating climate disasters we need to stop approving more coal and gas mines, while rapidly phasing out existing operations,” Traill said.
“In order for Australians to face a less dangerous climate, we need every nation on earth to do their share. Why would they do theirs if we do not do ours? The Albanese Government needs to take responsibility and stop approving new fossil fuel projects.”
Labor was swept to power in May of last year largely on a wave of climate urgency. In the past 16 months, it has been much of the same in terms of climate policy.
While the government has talked a good game and put in place targets that were otherwise unimaginable, analysts argue they remain at risk of the Teal independents and the Green Party. Unless they rapidly improve their climate credentials, it has been argued, they will face challenges in the 2025 election from a public who voted for better.
The UN climate committee has highlighted the fact that rich nations are simply not doing enough and that the planet is on track to significantly overshoot the Paris Agreement targets. Guterres said that “humanity has opened the gates of hell.”
“Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry, angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did nothing to create, angry that promised finance hasn’t materialised and angry that their borrowing costs are sky high,” he said.
“The future of humanity is in our hands. We must turn up the tempo, turn plans into action and turn the tide.”