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Australia must do its part and lift its climate commitments

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Photo: Hemant Chawla

Amid a critical decade for our planet and ahead of COP26, Australia must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and pledge new climate finance, says Ban Ki-moon.

First published in The Canberra Times.

This is a critical year, at the start of a critical decade, for our planet.

As last week's sobering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined, the future looks bleak unless humanity pays heed to the science. To avoid the most extreme impacts of climate change, we need co-ordinated and comprehensive global climate action from all nations. And Australia plays a vital role in our global ability to carve out a path to a better future for all.

Global heads of state are preparing to meet at the UN Climate Summit, COP26, in Glasgow in November.

Nearly six years ago, as secretary-general of the United Nations, I called world leaders together for COP21. Since then, 191 parties, including Australia, have ratified the Paris Agreement, agreeing to avoid runaway climate change.

We have made some progress, but our planet is still set on a dangerous trajectory. In Scotland, heads of state will make emissions-reduction commitments that set a better course for our collective future. The world is looking to Australia to take its place amongst the international community and lift its national ambition on climate.

Australia is a wealthy democracy - rich in both entrepreneurial spirit, ingenuity, and an abundance of natural resources. It is the world's sunniest nation, and one of the windiest - a significant natural advantage in a world moving rapidly to clean energy. However, of all developed countries, Australia is also one of the most susceptible to the effects of a changing climate. The east coast fires in 2020, the droughts that preceded them and the floods that followed - all exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Without decisive action to reduce emissions, escalating climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of disasters, having profound impacts on all aspects of life.

The shift to a zero-carbon world is now inevitable, and Australia is well placed to be a global renewable energy leader in this transition. The opportunities are enormous if Australia chooses to get ahead of the challenge.

Many Australians are already demonstrating their readiness for decisive national climate action. Matt Kean, the Energy Minister of NSW, is pioneering regional renewable-energy zones to replace coal-fired power stations; mayors of major cities are electrifying transport and going carbon-neutral by 2030; finance leaders are decarbonising trillions of dollars in assets; and an Australian has founded the world's first and only zero-carbon lithium company - geared to supplying batteries for the booming electric vehicle market. 

Solving climate change will take action from all of us. That's why it is good to see medical experts, farmers, First Peoples, city planners, financiers and businesses come together in the Better Futures Australia network to share solutions. They are calling for national policy that drives sustainable growth, jobs, and a just transition that leaves no one behind - including those whose livelihoods have historically depended on the fossil-fuel industry.

There is already huge momentum for change. All Australian states are now committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, and to ambitious reductions in this critical decade to 2030.

Internationally, Australia's major trading partners, including Japan, South Korea and China, have mid-century net-zero targets. In the short term, the US, Japan, the EU and the UK have committed to 2030 emissions reductions that are roughly twice as deep as Australia's current effort.

Australia's current goal of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030, and the absence of a national zero-emissions target, is out of step with its states, its trading partners, and other comparable nations. It is insufficient to meet Australia's Paris Agreement commitments.

Nor is Australia pulling its weight in its funding for poorer nations to undertake climate action, contributing only $US200 million a year towards the collective $US100 billion annual pledge by developed countries.

Ethically, the toll of inaction on climate is incalculable. Economically, failing to set ambitious, credible emissions targets in line with the rest of the world poses a huge threat to Australia's future prosperity and international standing. Australia risks finding itself on the wrong side of carbon border tariffs as other nations move ahead, seizing the opportunities of the zero-carbon age.

Australia's business community and state and city governments know there is no time to waste. The federal government now has an historic opportunity to seize the moment.

Australia must at least halve emissions this decade, and commit to zero by 2050. It must also join others in pledging new climate finance.

In so doing, Australia will take its rightful place on the world stage at COP26 in Glasgow. It will meet its Paris Agreement obligations, protect its national interests, and provide the certainty the nation needs to fully embrace the transition.

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