What We Want from COP 26: Australia and the Pacific
As the world’s 12th largest economy and the second biggest coal exporter on the planet, Australia – along with neighboring countries across the Pacific – will be major factors in COP 26 talks in Glasgow.
Our colleagues at Climate Reality’s Australia and Pacific branch share their take on what climate change means for the region as well as what’s blocking progress and what they hope to see at these critical talks.
What Climate Change Looks Like: Australia and Pacific
The Pacific region covers more than one third of the earth as a “Blue Pacific Continent.” It is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Sea-level rise, extreme weather, and warmer oceans present great challenges to the well-being and survival of people, nations, economies, and the diverse ecosystems.
The Pacific includes 14 nation states including Australia and New Zealand and nine territories, including those held by the US and France. Despite producing only 0.23% of global emissions, Pacific Island countries are already experiencing some of the severest impacts.
Supporting cleaner economies across the region and building on the resilience of communities will tackle climate change, improve well-being, and economies. All nations of the world need to hear the voices from the Blue Pacific Continent.
The Political Climate
- Many of the Pacific countries have contributed the least to climate change and yet are some of the “first and worst” impacted communities. For some, it’s an existential threat. For example, the nation of Kiribati became the first country to purchase land in another country in preparation for relocating its population.
- Australia is among the top few exporters of fossil fuels in the world – particularly coal and, increasingly, liquefied natural gas. Consecutive governments have set policies to slow the transition to renewables, leading to Australia increasingly viewed as a pariah, not just among its concerned neighbors in the Pacific, but globally.
- It's a very different story at the state and territory level in Australia, where governments have set ambitious targets that could cut emissions 37-42% from 2005 levels by 2030 – significantly higher than what national targets would achieve.
- Fervent, community-led action has been spurring local governments to look seriously at the emissions and resilience of their own operations – and the communities they are responsible for. The “climate emergency” movement began with a local council in Melbourne in 2016, urged by concerned residents. In just five years, climate emergency declarations now encompass over 2,030 jurisdictions worldwide, covering 1 billion people.
- Within Australia, the “Black Summer” wildfires are a recent forceful lived experience of the kinds of climate impacts that have been long predicted and, without serious action, will become the new normal by 2050.
Key Opportunities and Wins
- Pacific leaders have long been to the forefront of calling for urgent and rapid cuts to emissions. Their insistence in the Paris 2015 negotiations — supported by former US Vice President Al Gore and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson — is what led to the 1.5 degree target becoming enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
- Defying its status as a pariah on the international stage, Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources globally (offshore and onshore wind, solar radiation, pumped hydro, etc.). For instance, Sun Cable is developing a massive solar farm and the world’s largest battery storage facility with a 5,000 km undersea transmission cable running from northern Australia to Singapore with renewable power.
- Australia is one of the largest producers of rare earth metals essential for production of batteries and renewables components: lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper.
- State governments in Australia, particularly in traditionally “carbon communities,” are vying to be world leaders in production of green hydrogen as an input for “green steel,” ammonia, and other chemicals, as well as for global export.
- Some of Australia’s key export partners for its fossil fuels ( Japan and South Korea) have set targets for net zero emissions or transitioning to renewables. At the same time, the EU and the US are considering carbon border adjustment mechanisms that will effectively penalize companies trying to sell carbon-intensive products into those jurisdictions.
Obstacles to Overcome
- Due to the health and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be far fewer delegates from Pacific Island countries attending COP 26 than usual. Negotiators dread that this will lead to weaker outcomes as, attending online, they won’t have the essential conversations in the corridors with other decision makers. The situation is compounded by the fact that being in time zones 10 – 12 hours ahead of Glasgow, their efforts to negotiate forcefully will be severely hampered by having to attend right through the nights.
- This situation in itself is a climate justice issue. Once again, the countries contributing least to the problem, will have their perspectives diminished while negotiators from the Global North will be far less affected by the pandemic.
- Australia has one of the most concentrated, conservative media landscapes amongst developed countries. This has, for a long time, resulted in climate denialists being afforded having greater say on the public discourse on climate change, to the detriment of credible voices.
- Methane is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide but much more potent in the short term in its ability to heat the planet. Both New Zealand and Australia have significant meat and dairy industries with consequently large emissions of methane from belching and flatulence from cattle and the slurry they produce. Notably, neither country signed on to the October 11 global pledge by 32 countries, led by the Biden Administration to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030.
Where We Stand
- Pacific Island countries (PICs) are responsible for a mere 0.23% of global emissions.
- Of the largest emitters in the region, Australia's NDC aims to cut emissions 26-28% below 2005 by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 – but without any plans to cut fossil fuels or financial mechanisms or mandates to reach this goal.
- New Zealand submitted an updated NDC in April 2020 that did not strengthen the country’s 2030 target. Both the present 2030 target – 30% from 2005 levels – and its architecture are deeply flawed, creating a system that effectively allows net emissions to continue increasing.
What We Want from COP 26
On October 6, the Australia and Pacific branch of The Climate Reality Project hosted the Blue Pacific to Glasgow Forum. The event provided a platform to elevate the voices of political and civil society Pacific leaders - and Vice President Gore - calling for urgent ambition at COP 26.
These key demands encapsulate their call to the world to hear their plea for extreme urgency:
1. The time for ambitious climate action is now
All countries must put forward ambitious targets and plans at the crucial Glasgow COP to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change is a reality. If we fail to act urgently, there will be catastrophic consequences for the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand. Every fraction of a degree matters and it’s now in our hands. We have the solutions and this is the moment we must take action as one. Ambition needs to turn into reality. This moment, while action can still make a difference, is the one that matters.
2. Ambitious 2030 targets
Now is the time for ambitious climate action. At a minimum, developed nations including Australia and New Zealand need to join the US in halving emissions by 2030. Further, by providing substantial financial assistance to impacted countries and laying out plans for net zero no later than 2050.
There are credible calls for even stronger 2030 targets and earlier achievement of net zero than 2050.
3. Climate finance and climate justice
Developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilize at least US $100 billion per annum in climate finance. Developing countries need support to build low-carbon economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We must raise awareness of the rights and wellbeing of those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and learn from the resilience that First Nations peoples have developed over millennia.
4. Mobilize your networks
Our region is already seeing some of the first and worst impacts of climate change. We have the solutions and the time for action is now. Organize with friends and colleagues to call for ambitious climate commitments by leaders of governments and business at COP 26. Use these additional resources on COP 26 to help you raise awareness, increase ambition, and mobilize your networks.
Every tonne of carbon is important. Every fraction of a degree matters.
Time for Real Action on Climate
The stakes of COP 26 couldn’t be clearer. It’s time for our leaders to commit to real action to fight climate change.
Join us for 24 Hours of Reality: Let’s Get Real on October 29 and join advocates all across the planet in taking action to push our leaders to take real action on climate. Now while we still have time.
Ciaran McCormack is the manager at The Climate Reality Project – Australia & the Pacific