Coalition climate target consistent with more than 3C global heating, research says

Labor’s emissions targets are in line with 2C of heating, which would still lead to extreme heat events and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Morrison government’s climate change commitments are consistent with more than 3C of global heating, bordering on 4C, a level that would lead to catastrophic damage across the planet, according to a new analysis.

Labor’s climate target was found to be consistent with about 2C of heating above pre-industrial levels. Both would be expected to lead to the loss of tropical coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, and a significant rise in the number of extreme heat events in Australia, assuming other countries took equivalent action.

The research by Climate Analytics found neither major party had emissions reduction goals that lived up to the commitment that was made in the landmark 2015 Paris agreement, and strengthened in last year’s Glasgow climate pact, to aim to limit heating to as close as possible to 1.5C. It found targets proposed by the Greens and the “teal independents” vying for inner-city seats were consistent with that mark.

Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ chief executive, said scientists had demonstrated the risk of irreversible climate impacts if 1.5C was passed for even a short period of time was severe. When measured against that goal, the Coalition was acting in a way that would have catastrophic ramifications, while Labor “hadn’t really come to face the consequences of what the science is saying”.

Despite this, Hare said the implications of not dealing with climate change had largely been missing from the election campaign.

“The polls have suggested climate change is a very big issue, up there with the cost of living and integrity, but it is not really penetrating into the main political and media discussion,” he said. “This is the case despite the fact Australia has faced world-stage catastrophes in the past few years.”

The scientific consensus is that global temperatures have risen about 1C since 1900, overwhelmingly due to greenhouse gas emissions. In Australia, the average increase has been 1.4C. It has been linked to unprecedented bushfires, rainfall events that have caused catastrophic flooding and four mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef since 2016.

Climate Analytics found the Coalition’s 2030 emissions target – a 26-28% cut compared with 2005 levels – was consistent with all tropical reefs being destroyed and maximum temperatures in Australia increasing by about 3C. Intense heat events that might now occur once a decade would be expected every year, and would be significantly hotter.

Labor’s 2030 target of a 43% cut was consistent with the likely destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and maximum temperatures in Australia rising by 1.7C. Once-a-decade intense heat events would be expected roughly every three years.

The analysis found Australia should cut its emissions by 57% by 2030 to be compatible with a 1.5C heating goal.

The Greens say Australia should be cutting by 75% over that time period, while the teal independents largely support a climate bill proposed by Zali Steggall that includes a 60% target. Climate Analytics said both were consistent with some tropical reef areas surviving, and intense heat events happening more frequently than the past few decades.

Much of the focus on climate policy during the election campaign has been on Labor’s proposal to use the Coalition’s “safeguard mechanism” policy to gradually reduce industrial emissions, and divisions within the government over whether it is committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

A separate report released on Friday highlighted another Labor policy – a commitment to make a bid to host a major UN climate summit in partnership with Pacific countries in the next parliamentary term.

Richie Merzian, climate and energy director with the progressive Australia Institute, said hosting the COP29 summit in 2024 could be the most important thing the country did on the climate crisis over the next three years as it would reset its reputation after years of accusations it was a global “climate laggard” and could help repair relationships in the Pacific.

Speaking alongside Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Thursday, the party’s climate change and energy spokesperson, Chris Bowen, said hosting a summit would “send the message to the world that Australia is under new management when it comes to climate” and allowing it to sell the country as a “renewable energy powerhouse”.

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