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Marketing blitz at COP unlikely to distract from Australia’s lack of ambition

With the Coalition Government’s decision to make no changes to Australia’s existing – and wholly inadequate – emissions reduction target for 2030, Scott Morrison may feel the chill of more than the late-Autumn air when he touches down in Glasgow on Sunday.

The UN’s Environment Program reported earlier this week that of the 192 parties to the Paris agreement, struck in 2015, 121 new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions have been tabled from parties to the convention (with the EU bloc treated as a single party) ahead of COP.

Worryingly, limiting global average temperatures to 1.5°C would require countries to deliver a 55 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. Instead, the latest commitments as they stand now shave only 7.5 per cent off projected 2030 emissions, putting us on track for 2.7°C.

President of COP26 (and UK Cabinet minister) Alok Sharma recently urged the G20 forum of major economies (which also meets this weekend) to step up their ambition in emissions reduction pledges to give the world hope of stabilising temperatures at around 1.5°C.

While many of them have done so over the past year – particularly within our traditional circle of developed nation friends and allies – Australia is not among them. The US has upped its contribution to a 50–52 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, the EU to 55 per cent, the UK to 78 per cent by 2035, and Canada to 40–45 per cent. Side by side with those numbers, it’s clear that our unchanged 26-28 per cent reduction is about half what our mates would expect us to contribute to the group effort. Sort of like offering up a fiver when it comes time to split the dinner bill.

But for what we lack in substance, you can expect we will make up for in demonstrations of positive intent and activity. As far as the Clean Energy Council is aware, Australia has booked its own country pavilion for the first time in the history of a COP. We can anticipate Australia’s sizeable delegation of government ministers, advisers and officials to engage in a marketing and communications blitz showcasing the remarkable roll-out of rooftop solar (much of it driven by state schemes), the significant investment in large-scale generation capacity in recent years, the megaprojects on the horizon, the voluntary corporate action and the money that the Federal Government is pouring into technology partnerships, clean hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

The long list of talking points is likely to help the PM fill the awkward silence when he shows up dressed in a distant target of carbon neutrality, voluntary corporate action and technology advances. But the striking absence of ambition and concrete commitments to drive down emissions over the next critical decade is unlikely to convince our peers that Australia remains anything but a drag on the collective global effort.