Q&A: COP26 and high expectations

The UN’s COP26 climate summit began on Sunday in the Scottish city of Glasgow – and brings together representatives from around the world to assess the world’s progress in keeping temperature rises limited to 1.5 ° C to 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels.

While several G20 countries, including the United States and Britain, have pressured Australia to step up its climate ambitions – others are calling for “such as Australia and Saudi Arabia to be marginalized” because of their lack of action.

COP26 will assess progress in keeping temperature rises limited to 1.5 ° C to 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels. Image: Getty Images

In her introductory remarks to the first session of COP26, the Executive Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Patricia Espinosa warned that the election was sharp.

“Either we choose to achieve rapid and large-scale reductions in emissions to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – or we accept that humanity faces a bleak future on this planet.”

We asked Professor Jacqueline Peel, Director of Melbourne Climate Futures and Don Henry AM, Melbourne Enterprise Professor of Environmentalism at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, about their take on what is at stake.

1. What would be the best outcome of COP26?

PROFESSOR PEL: The main result would be increased ambition in the countries’ mid-term target (2030) to put the world on track to keep temperature rises below 2.0 ° C and as close as possible to 1.5 ° C.

In essence, this political ambition meets what scientists say is necessary to avert climate catastrophe. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is important, but deep emission reductions are most critical in the next decade to ensure we set the globe on track for a sustainable climate future.

PROFESSOR HENRY: COP26 is about implementing the historic Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Countries are expected to bring their national commitments to the table by 2030.

Deep emission reductions are most critical in the next decade to ensure a sustainable climate future. Image: Shutterstock

These should be a fair share of and create ambitions to achieve the global targets of keeping global warming well below 2.0 ° C and strive to achieve 1.5 ° C and global net zero emissions in the latter part of the century.

For developed countries, it means net zero in 2050 or earlier – and for their crucial 2030 target, at least halving emissions or more. Developed countries are also encouraged to agree on more than $ 100 billion in funding per year to help developing countries transition to low-emission economies and adapt to the effects of climate change.

A rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement must also be completed.

2. What could be the consequences if Australia fails to act effectively in the face of climate change?

PROFESSOR PEEL: Australia is queuing up to experience some of the most serious consequences of climate change. In fact, we are already seeing the effects of climate change in the Australian environment with warmer extreme summer temperatures, rising droughts, more severe storms and increased floods.

So Australia has a big part to play in ensuring that the world acts decisively to tackle climate change.

Politically and economically, Australia suffers if it is seen not to withdraw from the climate negotiations. One consequence could be, for example, that other countries impose carbon tariffs on goods from Australia to account for our lack of climate action.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Patricia Espinosa says the world is facing a tough choice. Image: Getty Images

PROFESSOR HENRY: If Australia fails to act effectively, it will have two main consequences.

First, it will hold back on achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement (which Australia has signed) and provide support to other countries that are not doing their fair share of the effort. This will make it harder to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and increase the risk that Australia – and all countries on Earth – will suffer from the increasingly damaging effects of climate change.

Second, Australia will be economically disadvantaged by “border adjustments” and other sanctions from countries that trade but do not want their economies disadvantaged, and we will miss out on jobs and investment that are growing rapidly in pure economies.

Our international reputation will also be damaged – especially among our G7 allies and Pacific Island neighbors – and our role in security events throughout the Indo-Pacific will be undermined.

3. What responsibility does Australia have in dealing with climate change in our region?

PROFESSOR PEL: Australia plays an important leadership role in our region as one of the most important developed countries.

Under the UN climate framework, developed countries are supposed to “take the lead” in dealing with climate change. This includes leading to emission reductions and providing funding to developing countries and vulnerable small island states – such as our Pacific neighbors – to adapt to climate change.

Developed countries such as Australia should take the lead in reducing emissions and supporting lower-income countries in the transition to low-emission economies. Image: Getty Images

For many countries in the Pacific, climate change poses an existential threat – their territories may become uninhabitable with rising sea levels and other climate impacts. Australia has a strong moral responsibility, if not a legal responsibility, to ensure that it plays its part and does its “fair share” in protecting our region from the worst-anticipated effects of climate change.

PROFESSOR HENRY: Australia and our region are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Some of Torres Strait’s islands, low-lying areas of Australia and some of our Pacific Islanders’ survival are threatened by climate change.

It is a major social, economic, environmental and security issue for our region. Australia is one of the largest greenhouse pollutants per capita. per capita on Earth and we are one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas.

Our region also has a lot to gain financially from a shift to low-emission economies. Australia has a high level of national, regional and global responsibility to be a leader, not a laggard in tackling climate change and building low-emission economies.

4. How do we bring the different voices in Australia together to tackle climate change coherently?

PROFESSOR PEEL: This is already happening to some extent, driven by a shared acceptance of science across business, cities, courts, state governments and civil society, and recognition of the need for decisive action to reduce emissions and build climate resilience over the next decade.

The difficult part of the climate policy puzzle in Australia has always been the role of the federal government, which lags behind others. A commitment to net zero in 2050 is a good first step, but a more coherent and coordinated climate policy for the country requires national climate legislation with clear sub-goals and actions alongside a long-term net zero goal.

Australia is facing international criticism that it is not ambitious enough in terms of reducing emissions. Image: Getty Images

PROFESSOR HENRY: Governments, business, civil society, local communities and individuals have crucial roles to play in tackling climate change. Many sectors of Australian society are moving fast.

The business sector supports broad halving of emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, and state governments representing over two-thirds of Australia’s economy are committed to the same.

More Australians have solar energy on their roofs per capita than any other country. Knowledge and action across all sectors and interests is needed to quickly scale up Australian action on climate change.

COP26 will help globally, but we will still have a lot to do for Australia to change from a laggard to a leader.

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