Australia could face trade and economic consequences over lack of climate action, former UN official warns

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday August 17, 2021

Ban Ki-moon warns Australia its failure to set an adequate emissions-reduction target could threaten the country’s prosperity and reputation.
Ban Ki-moon warns Australia its failure to set an adequate emissions-reduction target could threaten the country’s prosperity and reputation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will warn the Australian government that its failure to set an adequate emissions-reduction target could threaten the country’s prosperity and reputation, in a speech to be delivered at a climate summit today.

New South Wales environment minister Matt Kean will also urge Australians to ‘send a message’ to leaders that fail to address climate change, including through their votes.

The calls to action will be delivered virtually to the Better Futures Forum, which kicks off today and wraps up on August 19. A range of international and Australian leaders will join the online summit, including US deputy special presidential envoy on climate Jonathan Pershing, federal shadow minister for climate change Chris Bowen, Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Korshid, and former Liberal opposition leader John Hewson.

Ban, who was the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement, has labelled Australia’s current emissions target as ‘insufficient’ to meet the agreement commitments.

“Australia’s current goal of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030, and the absence of a national zero emissions target, is out of step with its states, its trading partners, and other comparable nations. It is insufficient to meet Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments,” he will say in a keynote address.

Read more: Public servants advised at conference ‘not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires’

Ban believes Australia can ‘take its rightful place on the world stage’ at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow this November by at least halving its emissions this decade, and committing to net zero by 2050.

“There is already huge momentum for change. All Australian states are now committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and to ambitious reductions in this critical decade to 2030. Many of Australia’s leading investors have publicly committed to a zero emissions economy,” he will say.

“Internationally, Australia’s major trading partners, including Japan, South Korea and China have mid century net zero targets. In the short term, the US, Japan, the EU and the UK have committed to emissions reductions that are roughly two to three times as deep as Australia’s current effort.”

However, if the federal government continues to ignore the climate commitments of its state and international counterparts, it may face economic consequences.

“Ethically, the toll of inaction on climate is incalculable. Economically, failing to set ambitious, credible emissions targets in line with the rest of the world poses a huge threat to Australia’s future prosperity and international standing,” Ban will say.

“Australia risks finding itself on the wrong side of carbon-border tariffs as other nations move ahead, seizing the opportunities of the zero-carbon age.”

The Morrison government’s refusal to commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 was once again brought into the limelight last week, following the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to the report by defending Australia’s climate response, and pointing to the lack of climate action from the developing world. Morrison’s deputy, Barnaby Joyce, also downplayed the Australian government’s role in responding to climate change last week, stating that the CSIRO and ‘other competent people come up with the plan’ to reduce emissions — not the leaders of the government.

But NSW Liberal MP Matt Kean argues that leaving the response up to others is a ‘cop out’.

“Complaining that it is too hard is not a solution. Saying it is up to others to come up with a plan is a cop out. The community expects our leaders to get on with it, or get out of the way,” he will tell the climate summit.

“Australia should not be a climate laggard. We should be a climate leader because we can do what other countries can’t, because here in Australia we can protect our planet in ways that lift the living standards of all humanity.”

Kean, who has strayed from the coalition’s stance on climate change in the past, says it’s the responsibility of Australian citizens to ‘remake’ politics and build a better country.

“It is our responsibility when we purchase things for our homes, when we choose where to invest our superannuation, when we decide who we bank with, and when we decide how to vote at the ballot box,” he will say.

“We need to send a message to all leaders in every part of our society that failing to deliver on the promise of what we can be is not an option.”

Read more: ‘No one wants to see bushfires like we saw last summer’: 82% of Australians concerned climate change could lead to more bushfires

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