This blog post is provided by Associate Editor, Peter Bridgewater, from the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University.
If this blog seems a little strange you must excuse me – I am halfway through Australia’s 14-day quarantine program to “welcome home” its citizens. But one benefit (?) is I have been able to watch the Australian Parliament Question time, while keeping up with COP26 preparations in the UK and elsewhere. And the sobering news that arrived halfway through my writing is the UNEP calculation that the pledges so far set the world on a 2.7˚C rise by the end of the century.
The UK Prime Minister has veered from almost insane optimism for a positive result from Glasgow at a meeting with Bill Gates and other Billionaires (read here for an excellent take on the meeting by Political sketch writer John Crace) to muted, almost depressive, expectation management at a press conference alongside WWF on October 25. Here in Australia successive Prime Ministers since 2007 have lost elections and/or been deposed by their Parties over policies on Climate Change. It has been called the Climate Wars, and it is (Australian) politics in the raw. And they don’t come much rawer. As COP26 loomed the current Australian Government struggled to reconcile its miniscule 2030 target of 26-28% reduction with community demands – and on the other side demands by the junior coalition party (National Party) demanding better consideration of “rural and regional Australia” (read coal exports).
Additionally, a Net Zero by 2050 plan for Australia has previously been derided by many in Government, including the current Prime Minister, although the major Liberal Party had agreed to such a target and the need for a plan to achieve it. However, many in the junior party (National Party) appeared not to want any targets at all. But their “Party room” i.e., all elected members, after days of intense wrangling, reached agreement on October 24 to support NetZero by 2050. So now the coalition government has an agreement, at the 11th hour, to take a net zero by 2050 target to Glasgow.
Now, here comes the pink unicorn – a key part of the plan to achieve the target is a dependence on the Rumsfeldian idea of unknown Technology yet to be invented! In addition, there is another unicorn – confused thinking around soil carbon as a major sequester. In undisturbed ecosystems of course this is largely true, but the plan refers to agriculture.
Boris Johnson (UK Prime Minister) has described the Australian outcome as “heroic” – it is unclear who or what has been heroic. Meanwhile, having lassoed the unicorn in the rodeo of Australian climate politics, the rest of the world is assuming net zero by 2050 anyway but is focused on a rapid reduction by 2030. So, here is the White elephant – Australia’s 2030 target was agreed at 26-28% reduction. This is absurdly low compared to other developed countries, and modelling suggests that in any event Australia will probably reach a 30% reduction, largely because of positive actions by householders. Yet the government refuses to upgrade its target to the level modelling suggest will be achieved, as this would spoil the mantra that “Australia will meet and beat its 2030 targets” This is not heroic, but Boris Johnson needs all the friends he can gather to make COP26 a success, or at least appear so.
The story doesn’t end there because the Australian government’s plan for net zero (a series of power point slides and yet to be published modelling) was only put in the public domain by the persistence of the opposition leader. And the modelling “will be released over the coming weeks” i.e., after Glasgow. So, here come the flying pigs! But there is no way telling if these pigs can remain airborne, or if they are simply porkies. Reading the above you may feel Australia is a disaster zone for climate policy and action. And at the Federal government level that is, I am afraid, largely correct.
But now come the sturdy Kangaroos – most of the State Governments, including ones governed by the same political party in power Federally, have much stronger targets for 2030. Interestingly, the Australian National Farmers Union, the Business Council, and several key resource sector companies have long supported net zero by 2050. Perhaps surprising, even News Corporation has joined the chorus of businesses seeking more ambition in target setting. They also support better and higher targets for 2030, which is now the main game. And after the wildfires of 2019 the feeling at large in the electorate is certainly one of nervousness that the federal government is not doing enough.
This situation is echoed by the UK and many other European countries e.g., the UK National Farmers Union has a net zero target by 2040. In part that is driven by science, but also by the strong feelings in the electorate at large. Business in general is also seeing – and implementing – changes necessary to move rapidly to emissions reductions by 2030, 2040, 2050. The Institute of Directors (UK) and the Australian Institute of Company Directors are also ramping up awareness of climate change threats – but also opportunities. This all leads to the view that governments and intergovernmental organisations have important roles, but – as with biodiversity – they are now being led by civic society, business, and primary producers. These kangaroos are far sturdier than the unicorns, flying pigs and white elephants.
This is my last post on this very rough road, and personally I remain hopeful for a good result from COP26, with a healthy dose of cynicism. Whatever, none of us can continue to leave this to Governments alone, or even COPs – it’s too important!