CANBERRA, AAP – Australia’s has been handed a climate change reality check as the world hurtles towards 1.5C of warming by early next decade.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has again sounded the alarm on what society is doing to itself.
It’s galvanised calls for Australia, widely seen as a global laggard on emissions reduction, to detach itself from fossil fuels.
The sixth IPCC assessment released on Monday night shows global warming of at least 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is anticipated within 20 years.
Climate scientists expect 1.5C to be reached in the early 2030s.
The worst-case projection shows warming of between 3.3C and 5.7C between 2081 and 2100, with a best estimate of about 4.4C.
Australian land areas have already warmed 1.4C and worsening climate change will only intensify destructive fires, floods, droughts, cyclones and coral bleaching.
IPCC vice-chair and Australian National University climate change institute director Mark Howden warned: “We’re heading into a bad place.”
“We’re already in that zone where we’re experiencing extremes pretty much everywhere in Australia and pretty much every year,” he told ABC radio.
“What COVID has shown us is that hard and fast and smart action really benefits everyone in health terms, in economic terms.
“It’s exactly the same for climate change.”
The Morrison government has not committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 in response to the report and maintains this target is a preference.
“We’re determined to do as best we can to drive down our carbon emissions across the economy,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News.
“We want to do so in a way that’s not punitive.”
Australia is projected to cut emissions 29 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, compared with its Paris Agreement target of between 26 and 28 per cent.
Globally, current commitments are not consistent with keeping global temperatures to 1.5C or even below 2C.
This requires immediate, rapid, drastic and sustained cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia’s reductions to date have been helped along by reductions in land clearing and mechanisms put in place under Labor.
“Looking at the core fossil fuel-based sectors, the emissions from those have actually gone up within that period and at the moment they’re pretty much flatlining,” Professor Howden said.
“There’s no real evidence that our current policy settings are actually working to driving down our emissions.”
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles urged meaningful action on climate change.
He also maintained coal had a role to play in Australia’s economy for some time to come.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said getting climate change under control would protect farmers and food production.
Businesses wanted state and federal governments on the same page when it came to climate change.
“We shouldn’t have states and federal government go off in totally different directions. That just impacts on investment,” Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said.
The UN Environment Programme director Inger Andersen lamented the world’s failure to heed decades of warnings.
“The world listened, but didn’t hear. The world listened, but it did not act strongly enough,” she told the global launch of the IPCC’s sixth assessment.
“And as a result, climate change is a problem that is here, now. Nobody’s safe and it’s getting worse faster.”