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‘2050 is far too late to secure a safer future for our kids’

11 October 2021 at 4:58 pm
David Ritter
The time for excuses has passed, writes David Ritter, chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, who says the federal government must take decisive action to cut emissions this decade.

David Ritter | 11 October 2021 at 4:58 pm


‘2050 is far too late to secure a safer future for our kids’
11 October 2021 at 4:58 pm

The time for excuses has passed, writes David Ritter, chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, who says the federal government must take decisive action to cut emissions this decade.

Australia is on track to be carbon neutral in 273 years time. Thanks to the Morrison government’s complete lack of effort to reduce emissions, following on from years of recklessness by his predecessors, continuing down our current path Australia will be carbon neutral by 2295. 

This calculation, based on projections from Australia’s August quarterly emissions data, shows the dire path we are set to tread if things don’t change. And setting a net zero target for 2050, without offering short-term ambition and a clear plan, does not offer meaningful change. 

This is why, whether he turns up or not, Morrison is currently on track to being seen as the dunce in the corner when the vital COP26 Global Climate Conference kicks off in Glasgow later this month.

A crescendo of global commentary has focused on Australia as a global climate embarrassment. As an example, recently Australia’s ambitions on climate action were ranked dead last amongst over 170 UN member nations. 

It is this shameful context in which there has lately been plenty of chatter from Scott Morrison and certain other federal government figures around adopting “net zero emissions by 2050” as the national target.

The detection of a rhetorical shift has caused considerable journalistic excitement – and to be fair, any net zero target is preferable to the Morrison government’s current position of no target at all. However, the truth is that even if “net zero by 2050” actually becomes something more than just Morrison blather, especially without interim targets, 2050 is far too late to secure a safer future for our kids. 

The rate at which emissions decline is the critical figure that will now determine our planet’s future – and that of our kids. The more our federal government causes delay, the worse the impacts will be. 

As a consequence of the years of obstruction, what is essential now are deep cuts by 2030 to ensure complete decarbonisation by 2035. As every adult and school aged child knows, when you put off work, it doesn’t go away, it just mounds up – and putting off the work of decarbonisation with dishonesty, excuses and waffle has been the de facto Australian political setting for many years. 

While Australia’s actual young people are striking on the streets (when they can), litigating in the courtrooms and even running for corporate boards to try and force responsible action – the prime minister has been behaving like a cartoon school kid, coming up with any pathetic excuse he can to avoid his responsibilities on climate. 

Shamefully, Australia’s current 2030 reduction targets are inadequate. They have not been updated since 2015 and based on the government’s own modelling, we are going to fall short of even these wholly insufficient objectives.

And there is no credible plan. The meagre guidance on emissions reduction we do have sits within the government’s “technology roadmap”. This is a dodgy distraction which is way too focused on the expensive failed boondoggle of carbon capture and storage. 

The truth of the matter is that for Australia to do our bit to combat the climate crisis, the federal government needs to commit to 75 per cent emissions cut by 2030, and net zero by 2035: a transition that is technically feasible and affordable and with massive upsides for our country in all kinds of ways. At the core of the transition is the imperative to stop burning coal in Australia by 2030 at the latest, while in relation to our exported emissions, the responsible position is an immediate moratorium on any new fossil fuel extraction projects. All of these requirements are supported by the International Energy Agency’s modelling indicating a responsible pathway. 

Real action requires rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy – like the commitments now being made by a whole slew of Australia’s best known businesses who have promised to use 100 per cent renewable energy for all their electricity needs by 2025 or earlier. 

Wind and solar are now proven, reliable and the cheapest option. If the likes of Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings and Aldi have bet their businesses on the price and reliability of renewables, we can assume they stack up. 

Yet, for years, the march of renewables has been held back by federal government antipathy, lack of investment and the gross failure to provide regulatory certainty. Rather than designing policy to nurture the rapid rise of an industry of the future that plays to all Australia’s natural advantages and is in our national interest, the implicit approach has been, in my opinion, something akin to officially sanctioned sabotage of the renewables sector.

Without short-term action, the cost of climate change grows by the year. It is cheaper to act on climate change. Economist Nicholas Stern demonstrated this in 2006 – and about three gazillion other studies have shown the same thing since then. 

Decisive action this decade is much more crucial than any 2050 commitment. Without tightening our 2030 goals or having a credible plan, a 2050 net zero target is little more than a fig-leaf; just another political manoeuvre; a coward’s cloak to avoid taking any real climate action.

Enough of the excuses, the delay and the pathetic politics: the prime minister of Australia has the obligation to do the right thing for our country, our kids and our planet – and to get on with it. 

David Ritter  |  @ProBonoNews

David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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