COP26: Former UN climate chief slams Australia over climate goals

Australia has been smashed with criticism, labelled “completely irresponsible” as the nation’s reputation repeatedly cops it in global headlines.

Australia has been smashed with criticism, labelled “completely irresponsible” and called out for digging “dark holes of poison for itself” as the nation’s reputation continues to cop it in global headlines.

The G20 summit in Rome finished without many concrete commitments on emissions reduction. Now Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces the COP26 United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

It comes just hours after he was seen being given the “cold shoulder” while mingling among leaders including Rwanda president Paul Kagame.

Among the summit’s goals is a concrete plan from world leaders on how to keep the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees celsius. It has been billed as the world’s “last best chance” to avert the worst environment consequences of climate change.

Mr Morrison said on Monday he believes “there will be progress” in Glasgow and that the world will “move to a new energy economy”.

“I think there will be progress. The destination, I think is understood and agreed,” he said.

“The world will move to a new energy economy. It will move to a decarbonised net zero economy. And the pace of that and the way that journey is travelled by countries will be different.

“In different countries they’ve got different, different challenges and they will find their different ways to that same destination. And to think that aspiring to that goal means that every single country has to get there the same way. I don’t think that’s realistic. And frankly, I think it’s a bit naive.”

Before leaving Australia, Mr Morrison struck a deal with his party’s coalition partner, the Nationals, to set a target of net zero emissions by 2050. But the details of that plan, or lack thereof, were immediately criticised.

Under the Prime Minister’s plan, more than $20 billion will be invested in low emissions technologies, including carbon capture and storage. Mr Morrison also unveiled new projections forecasting an emissions reduction of 30-35 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

But the modelling underpinning that prediction will not be released until an unspecified point in the future.

Among the critics was Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who labelled Mr Morrison’s net zero commitment “just more bulls**t”.

Another was Australian National University associate professor Christian Downie, who echoed worries that Australia was not doing enough.

“What’s really needed of course is not future plans, future technologies, future commitments to carbon neutrality. It’s actions today, in the next five to ten years, and that of course is what Glasgow is all about,” Prof Downie said.

At the summit in Glasgow, global leaders are hoping to strike an agreement to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by the end of the decade. The Australian government has already indicated it will not sign such a pledge.

In scathing comments on Monday, the former UN climate chief and “architect of the Paris agreement” slammed Australia as “irresponsible”, in some of the strongest comments yet condemning our nation’s approach.

Christiana Figueres, who helped to shape the 2015 Paris Agreement, did not hold back when questioned about Australia’s efforts.

“I struggle to find an adjective that is politically correct [for Australia],” Ms Figueres told the ABC.

“Honestly, I think what Australia continues to do is so irresponsible.

“What Australia continues to do, which in my book is nothing other than to dig into dark holes of poison for itself and for the planet, is completely irresponsible.”

She went even further, labelling the government’s stance “suicidal”.

“If Australia did not have an option, one could perhaps understand, but Australia has much to benefit from in a decarbonised economy,” Ms Figueres argued.

“Australia sits on a treasure chest, a treasure chest of new and new renewable energy that can be used in and of itself, but also to produce green hydrogen.”

Mr Morrison defended Australia in Rome, citing “only four countries that sit around the G20 table that have a larger reduction in emissions since 2005 than Australia”.

Those are: Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

“There’s only one other country other than Australia, who has had a greater reduction in their emissions intensity, expressed as a percentage of their GDP. That’s the United Kingdom,” Mr Morrison said.

“Australia ranks second in the G20. So we’re getting it done, we’re 20 per cent more down already on our emissions and our path is going to be set by technology.

Ms Figueres’ frustration comes shortly after a key Adviser to the British government accused Mr Morrison of showing “no indication” of delivering on his 2050 net zero pledge.

The UK’s Climate Change Committee chair, Lord Deben, shared his brutal assessment of Australia’s climate change commitment with the BBC on Saturday.

He claimed the net zero plan was “squeezed out of” Mr Morrison, saying there was “no indication” he would stick to his commitment.

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