Despite repeated natural disasters, Australia’s climate targets are among the weakest in industrialized countries. About a year ago, historic wildfires brought climate change into the debate, but did anything change in the end?
“Butter creator, where do you even start? ” sighs professor of global ecology Corey Bradshaw, when asked about Australia’s climate action.
“Climate issues have been political for decades.”
At the turn of 2019 and 2020, the corona pandemic had not yet had time to turmoil the world and dominate the news headlines. At the time, the topic of conversation was Australia’s historic wildfires, which kicked off the almost unfortunate multi-stage 2020.
Just over a year has passed since the record-breaking wildfire season ended in Australia. The world has changed a lot in that time. Australian wildfires feel distant because they were followed by a pandemic that affected the daily lives of almost every person.
From September 2019 to March 2020, 34 people died in fires that erupted. The fires destroyed nearly 19 million hectares of forest and land, about 3,500 homes, thousands of buildings and killed up to a billion animals. For insurance companies, wildfires cost about A $ 1.9 billion, or about € 1.2 billion. There is still hope of a historic catastrophe.
Wildfires raised climate issues for discussion. Climate demonstrations were held around the country calling on the government to take more ambitious climate action. Then came the corona pandemic, and people were forced to focus on the rest.
“People forgot about wildfires overnight. As if nothing had ever happened, ”says Bradshaw.
Question is: did anything change? Did wildfires make Australia, underestimated by climate change, make changes?
“My first thought is that climate policy has only gotten worse,” says the physicist and climate researcher Bill Hare in a video call from Perth on the west coast of Australia.
Hare is the founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, an organization that monitors climate science and policy. He has been involved in outlining UN climate agreements, such as the Kyoto and Paris agreements, since 1989. In addition, Hare co-authored the IPCC Fourth Report of the Climate Change Panel in 2007. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.
The list could go on indefinitely, but in a nutshell: Hare knows what he’s talking about.
He lists some examples of why Australian climate policy seems to be going backwards rather than forwards. The debate is largely tied to the coal that Australia exports abroad the second most in the world. Coal also produces 75 percent the country’s electricity.
Federal politicians and the coal and gas industries have strong connections.
In the 2020 financial year, companies focusing on fossil fuels donated more than A $ 1.3 million, or about € 830,000, to the three largest parties, says Market Forces organization data.
The government strongly supports the coal industry, there are coal mines all over the country and more are wanted to be opened, even if the demand for coal in the future is According to the Reserve Bank of Australia uncertain and its production and exports are expected to grow quite modestly.
The media also has a role to play in reporting on Australia’s climate action. The recurring theme of News Corp, Australia’s largest media company, has been underestimating climate change. Founder of News Corp during the wildfires Rupert Murdochin the Murdoch media, as invited, reported, for example, that the fires were similar as ever.
From industrialized countries Australia has one of the weakest climate targets. Climate change mitigation next CCPI index Australia is ranked 54th on the list. The United States is ranked 61st.
The Climate Action Tracker Group, which monitors national emission reduction promises and their implementation, considers Australia’s climate targets to be insufficient. They are on their way to a three-degree warming compared to pre-industrial times.
Last December, Australia was not invited to a British-hosted climate summit because Australia’s climate targets were not considered sufficient by the organizers.
President of the United States Joe Biden Australia was nevertheless invited to the April climate summit. When many countries announced more ambitious climate action, Australia did not bring new climate promises to the conference table.
It pledged to cut CO2 emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2030. It has promised the same thing for several years.
“The goal is far from where it should be. The target should be doubled to 55% to be in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, ”says Hare.
At the Biden meeting, the United States promised to halve its emissions by the end of this decade.
Bradshaw, a professor of global ecology at Flinders University, is on the same lines.
“We’re mostly laughing,” Bradshaw notes.
In March last year, the south-east of Australia was hit by heavy rains. At least three people died in the floods they caused. In some coastal areas, two-thirds of normal rainfall throughout the year rained weekly. The floods hit New South Wales in particular, which suffered the worst from wildfires a year earlier.
As climate change progresses, Australia will be able to prepare for increasingly frequent extreme weather events. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program, with current actions, the world is on its way to a three-degree warming compared to pre-industrial times.
A three-degree warming would mean, among other things, the usual 50-degree days in Sydney and Melbourne, historically large floods each year, and depletion of natural resources and animal species, according to a study published by the Australian Academy of Sciences in March. report.
“I’m surprised if there are koalas in 20 to 30 years,” Bradshaw says.
Global warming is already a reality in Australia as well: compared to 1910, Australia has warmed by an average of 1.4 degrees. Due to the warming and acidification of seawater, for example, the Great Barrier Reef on the northeast coast of Australia is in poor condition.
“It’s pretty depressing after all, because there are also really good climate scientists in Australia,” says Bradshaw.
At the federal level politicians have so far been reluctant to take ambitious climate action, but both scholars agree that climate policy at the state level is more progressive. There are talented people and innovation.
The corona pandemic has affected climate policy around the world. Thanks to vaccines, many Western countries have turned their attention to recovering from a pandemic.
“Right now, the perception is that the focus will shift back to climate change this year,” says Hare.
He is cautiously optimistic about the future. Limiting global warming to two degrees is still possible with rapid action.
“Positive change is noticeable, which brings hope.”
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