Acting on climate change — from global to local

This content forms part of the issues brief on climate change.

Paris agreement

The 2015 Paris Agreement sets out a global roadmap for combating climate change. The Paris climate agreement was adopted by almost 200 nations in 2015 and came into effect in November 2016. In 2018 the US pulled out of the Agreement and there have also been calls for Australia to do the same.

The Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also increases the ability of individual countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, taking into account their own circumstances and this is to be achieved through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Under the agreement, all signatories must report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. There will also be a “global stocktake” every five years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and to inform further individual actions. It is clear however that current policy commitments and actions will need to be rapidly accelerated if the target is to be achieved. Emission reduction targets and strategies Achieving the goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 or 2°C will require greenhouse gas emissions to peak by the early 2020s followed by rapid reduction to as close to zero as possible by 2040. The actions required to achieve swift reductions in emissions are now well understood. Governments need to introduce policy to promote:

  • rapid reductions in energy consumption and improvements in energy efficiency
  • rapid electrification and replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy
  • low carbon land use and sequestration of carbon into sustainable carbon sinks

Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050

How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world

Source: Climate Works

Australia’s policy position on emission reduction Australia ratified the Paris Agreement on 6 November 2016 with the Federal Government setting an NDC target of reducing GHG emissions, (including land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF),) by 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. However, there is a large and ongoing gap between current Australian emissions targets and the pathway required to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals. Climate Works Australia recently assessed emissions data and projections against findings from their Pathways to Deep Carbonisation project. With emissions in 2017 at 11 per cent below 2005 levels, Australia is not on track to meet the Paris target. In addition, emissions are projected to rise in most sectors. This is consistent with the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) assessment of the Australia Commonwealth Government’s emission reduction policies last year:

“We rate the [Australian] NDC target itself ‘Insufficient’, with a level of ambition that — if followed by all other countries — would lead to global warming of over 2°C and up to 3°C.”

Australia: Paris Agreement 26-28% emission reduction target versus carbon exports in coal

(million tonnes CO2-e per annum)

“If the CAT were to rate Australia’s projected emissions levels in 2017 under current policies, we would rate Australia ‘Highly insufficient’, indicating that Australia’s current policies in 2017 are not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and are instead consistent with warming between 3°C and 4°C. This means Australia’s current policies are not in line with any interpretation of a ‘fair’ approach to the former 2°C goal, let alone the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.”

The question of coal…

One particularly concerning trend is the impact of Australia’s rapidly growing coal exports on global emissions. Australia exports almost twice the emissions which we produce domestically, with one in every 35 tonnes of global emissions coming from Australian exported coal. This trend will be further accelerated if new coal export projects like the Adani coal mine and others in the Galilee Basin are approved.

Australian domestic and coal export emissions 2016 Source: Renew Economy.

Community support for rapid and decisive climate action

While Australia’s national emissions reduction targets and actions remain well below the level required, many communities, business leaders, investors and state governments are demonstrating growing awareness of the urgent need to address climate risks.

In 2018 the Australia Institute’s ‘Climate of the Nation’ survey found that:

  • 73% of Australians are concerned about climate change – up from previous years.
  • 67% want Australia to phase out coal fired power generation over the next two decades.

In Victoria, the 2016 Sustainability Victoria climate change survey also found strong support for decisive action on climate change.

  • The top three impacts that concern Australians are: floods and droughts affecting food production and supply (78%); destruction of the Great Barrier Reef (77%); and more bush fires (76%).
  • 91% accept some level of human causality for climate change.
  • 78% are concerned about the impact of climate change on future generations.
  • 78% think climate change is an issue that requires urgent action now.
  • 79% would be proud to live in a state leading the way on climate change.

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