Australia At The COP26: Consequences At Home And Abroad

The 2021 Climate Change Conference, or COP26, is an impressive event, marking the congregation of world leaders at Glasgow this past week. It is the prime opportunity to do some good, or perhaps look good while doing very little. The conversations, protests, and policies are ramping up, as more governments plan and act to prevent the burning of fossil fuels, warming of the global environment, and protecting millions of vulnerable people worldwide. For Australia, questions are emerging both domestically and on the international stage about their level of commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to saving the environment from irreparable damage, no amount of handshakes, smiling photos, or political spin can make up for the absence of genuine action. There was a seemingly promising speech about an “ambitious target” and “far exceeding our Paris commitment.” Nevertheless, Australia refused to join a pledge made by over 100 countries to reduce methane emissions, a key goal of the conference. The reality is that if reductions aren’t made, the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities, ecosystems, and human safety in the natural environment will be beyond repair.

The latest efforts of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government to commit to carbon zero by 2050 are more of a commitment to securing votes in the next federal election than anything else. After reviewing both Morrison’s COP26 speech and the government’s 2050 net-zero plan just a week prior, the Climate Council of Australia claimed it lacks any real substance. The reduction targets are “well below what the science says is necessary.” From the international perspective, this only leaves Australia last to the OECD party and confirms a valiant effort to achieve absolutely the bare minimum and nothing more.

Occurring amid an embarrassing dispute with France, Australia’s performance at the COP26 could cause significant harm to their credibility on the international stage. This is crucial for their relationships, trade, and security with the rest of the world. Moreover, the lack of a strong commitment to reducing carbon emissions quickly is a frightening prospect for future governments and generations. The prime minister grapples with appealing to the voting majority that demands climate action and offering enough concessions to please the nationals’ base. Still, the rest of the population looks on with despair at plans that have not been made, jobs that are not secure, and natural hazards that are predicted to come more rapidly and inflict more damage. According to experts, the bushfires of 2019 were just a taste of what is to come.

As people around the world watch our leaders on the stage, it is becoming abundantly clear that Australia and every other country must accept the challenge. They need to follow through on tangible commitments to reducing carbon emissions. If they don’t, billions of people will be left in a dangerous struggle for survival in a world we simply won’t know.