Australia needs to reduce emissions to net zero by 2038 to do ‘fair share’ to contain global heating, analysis shows

Researchers claim that the government’s climate schedule needs to be advanced by ten years in order to keep warming to 1.5C.

According to new scientific analysis, Australia’s fair share of action to give the world a chance to prevent global warming to 1.5C would entail attaining net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2038 – more than a decade earlier than the government’s target.

Australia’s 2035 objective would need to see a reduction of 90% from 2005 levels by 2035, the research finds, in order to stay on track to keep global warming of 1.5C within reach, a goal that the climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen has regarded as crucial.

The study shows how far Australia has to go before it can reasonably claim that its aims are in line with the 1.5C goal. The study was conducted by two eminent scientists who contributed to the UN climate panel’s assessment of how quickly global emissions will need to decline.

The country’s aim has already been amended by the Albanese administration to a 43% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, which is an improvement above the Morrison administration’s 26% pledge.

Associate professor Malte Meinshausen and Dr. Zebedee Nicholls of Climate Resource state that the enhanced target would have needed to be “at least 67%” to be in line with 1.5C in a briefing study commissioned by WWF-Australia.

Although Australia has set a goal of reaching net zero by 2050, Meinshausen and Nicholls argue that this goal should really be reached by 2038 given Australia’s “fair share” of effort.

We should now be aiming for the highest level of ambition, according to Nicholls. We must seriously consider each available mitigation strategy.

“If we’re serious about 1.5C, this is the minimum that Australia should be considering.”

There is disagreement among nations over what constitutes a “fair share” of work.

The new research takes into account the total amount of carbon that the earth may emit while still having a 50% chance of keeping global temperatures at 1.5C (often referred to as the carbon budget).

The new estimate assigns Australia a 0.97% share of the global budget; this number comes from a Climate Change Authority report from 2014, which suggests wealthier countries should make faster cutbacks to give developing nations more time to decarbonize.

Given that Australia only accounts up 0.33% of the global population, the authors noted that their estimate of 0.97% is regarded generous.

Climate Resource estimates that the government’s existing policies will result in Australia emitting 7.6 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent between 2021 and 2050, which is “roughly double” the 4 billion tonnes allotted “for a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C.”

It is “impossible to pin down” what the “fair share” of any country’s efforts on carbon reductions might look like, according to Prof. Frank Jotzo, a climate policy expert at Australian National University, “because there are so many value judgements that need to be made.”

But he said that Australia’s present policy ambition was “not in line with 1.5C” and that emissions reductions would need to be “extremely rapid, deep, and sustained” to satisfy any “plausibility test” for a 1.5C-aligned commitment.

The effects of heatwaves, sea level rise, and temperature extremes would be lessened if global temperatures were kept close to 1.5C, and ecosystems like Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef would have a greater chance of surviving.

After the Climate Change Authority publishes its recommendations in 2024, the government will set its 2035 objective in 2025. On that matter, the authority is currently conducting a community engagement process.

After a UN-backed monitoring team urged for a number of new measures, the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, wrote to Unesco last month to support the federal and Queensland governments’ efforts to safeguard the reef.

The government, according to Plibersek’s letter, was committed to establishing “successively more ambitious emissions reduction targets” that would be “in alignment with efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C.”

According to Richard Leck, head of oceans at WWF-Australia, Australia must contribute fairly. The Great Barrier Reef cannot be saved by the rest of the globe doing the grunt work. Australia needs to lead by example and offer the reef hope.

In a statement, Unesco stated that it was concluding a reef assessment with the help of its science advisors, and that it was “expected to be public in July.” The global heritage committee would then make a determination regarding whether Australia’s pledges were sufficient or not in September.

Guardian Australia spoke with Minister Bowen’s office about the government’s evaluation of the 2050 target for net zero and the standards it would apply to determine if it was in keeping with Australia’s “fair share” of the global effort to keep temperatures below 1.5C.

However, a spokeswoman claimed that the government was putting solid measures into place to meet its “ambitious” 2030 and 2050 ambitions.

According to the spokesman, the new Climate Change Act requires the Climate Change Authority to give “specific consideration to the temperature goals” of the Paris Agreement while providing advise on the 2035 target that will be amended in 2025.

Despite being the state with the highest emissions, Queensland’s 2030 emissions reduction target is still stuck at 30%, considerably behind other states.

Leanne Linard, the minister for the environment in Queensland, stated that data from 2021 revealed that the state had nearly achieved its 2030 goal “nine years ahead of time” and that the government was “committed to meeting its overall goal of zero net emissions by 2050, in line with leading global economies.”

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