Australia, one of the world’s leading coal and gas suppliers, has pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Australia joins a long line of countries that have already set out their plans to reduce emissions. However, the country has drawn criticism by aiming to achieve the environmental goal without shutting down their fossil fuel sector. Writing in an Australian newspaper column Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia”, going against the calls of many green groups and environmentalists, who argue that phasing out these industries must play a key role in the country’s decarbonisation. Australia have refused calls for further legislation to enforce its climate goals, and the country is unwilling to make more ambitious environmental targets for 2030.
The term ‘net zero’ refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emitted, in comparison to the amount removed from the atmosphere. A country achieving net zero carbon emissions means that the amount of carbon emissions they are adding to the atmosphere, is no more than that which they are taking away. This can be achieved by reducing the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which is released in the burning of fossil fuels, as well as off-setting measures such as planting trees.
Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gases, which are seen as non-renewable energy sources. Instead of cutting these sources out, Australia have said that they will rely on consumers and companies to drive down emissions. The government has been criticised in lacking detail as to how such goals will be achieved without strong legislation and a move away from unsustainable energy. Mr Morrison remains confident however that Australia can deliver on its climate promises through “technology not taxes”.
Australia’s pledge and the criticism that followed, have arrived just ahead of COP26, the United Nations climate summit taking place in Glasgow this week. The summit will bring parties together in a hope to accelerate action towards the goals previously set out in the Paris agreement back in 2015. Many consider this meeting to be crucial in ensuring that all parties are on track to keep global warming no higher than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Australia is one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters and has some of the highest emissions per capita. It is perhaps therefore unsurprising that the country has been dragging its heels on climate action over the past decade. Mr Morrison has announced an investment of A$20bn (£11bn) in “low-emission technology” over the next 20 years but not denying the fact that in the short-term Australia will be consuming more gas. This is, of course, welcome by green groups, but many feel that the money will not go far enough. For a country that has experienced first-hand the devastating impact of climate change through the effects of bush fires, some are concerned that the country is simply not moving fast enough on such an important issue.