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Not just climate adaptation, but genuine transformation

  • 10 February 2021
The Australian government has been in the news this month for two seemingly contradictory policy responses to climate change. First, on 26 January, the Hon Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment, attended the (first of its kind) Global Climate Adaptation Summit and committed Australia to join the global Call for Action on Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience, to developing a new National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, and pledged new climate finance of at least $1.5 billion over the next five years.

In apparent contrast to these new commitments, Australia’s recent update to its Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC) under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement made no increase to already mitigated ambition, sticking with the current paltry target of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. A target that is shockingly unambitious. Doubling down on this lack of ambition, Australia has still not made a formal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack proclaiming, ‘We are not worried, or I’m certainly not worried, about what might happen in 30 years’ time.’ This makes Australia the only rich country to not have a net zero commitment in either law or policy.

McCormack and his colleagues in the National Party have also mooted quarantining emissions from industries such as agriculture and mining from any target Australia signs up to, with McCormack arguing, ‘There is no way we are going to whack regional Australia, hurt regional Australia, in any way shape or form just to get a target for climate in 2050’.

The government’s dogged refusal to commit to serious emissions reductions came under fire last week from Mathew Wale, Leader of the Opposition in Solomon Islands, who went on to invite the Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands ‘to join me in visiting my constituency of Aoke Langa Langa Lagoon to meet the people whose sea walls have toppled, whose food gardening areas are too salty to be useful, whose water sources are ruined and whose soup soup gardens are inundated by saltwater. He might explain to them how grateful they should be that Australia is providing billions to ensure jobs are kept in the Australian gas and coal industries.’

On a superficial level, it makes no sense to commit so strongly to managing the impacts of climate change (adaptation) on the one hand while refusing to significantly reduce emissions (mitigation) on the