It has been five years since the IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of human-induced climate change from rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, it clearly states that we still have an opportunity to secure a liveable, sustainable future for all, but climate action must be mainstreamed, and its pace and scale must be accelerated.
Global action is not ambitious enough. No single action and no single country will achieve the scale of emissions reduction required.
A mammoth effort across the world, including a portfolio of approaches, is essential to stabilise emissions. We must pull every lever available to us: policy, financial, economic, scientific, technological and social.
Australia has direct experience of the loss and damage associated with more frequent and intense climate-induced events such as bushfires and flooding. And no nation can ignore the ravaging climate impact on our Pacific neighbours, which has geopolitical consequences for the world, especially for Australia.
Australia must do something substantial about its contribution to global warming.
We have the tools but lack the necessary ambition.
The solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are more readily available than ever before.
But we must expand our toolkit to remove already released emissions from the atmosphere. Scaled removal solutions can bring massive opportunities to our nation and will be essential to reach net zero emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Late last year, I convened experts to determine the scientific capability, research and collaboration needed to support breakthroughs in greenhouse gas removal.
Watch the recording of the event, from 1 March 2023:
Whilst Australia has been active in promoting land-based approaches such as afforestation, reforestation and carbon farming, these approaches can only account for part of the large-scale greenhouse gas removal required.
The roundtable identified a range of novel greenhouse gas removal and storage approaches, including direct air capture methods; ocean alkalinity enhancement; technologies that split CO2 into carbon and oxygen; mineral carbonation; enhanced mineralisation; blue carbon; and using photosynthetic organisms.
The Academy welcomes informed democratic parliamentary debate on the safeguard mechanism. However, this is just one tool and given our nation’s track record of policy stagnation, it places us at the starting line when we should be halfway through the race.
The safeguard mechanism should be passed into legislation as a priority and every single arm of government, industry and the community sector leveraged to take action to reduce and remove greenhouse gas emissions.
Where emissions reduction or removal technology does not exist, investment in research must be prioritised and scaled up.
With elements of the national science and innovation system under review by the government, there is a unique policy window to elevate emissions removal in the Australian policy discourse.
Greenhouse gas reduction and removal must be part of the Australian Government’s suite of priorities across investment vehicles such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the National Reconstruction Fund.
The impacts of climate change are already upon us, and often those least equipped to adapt are impacted the most.
But no one is invulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the IPCC tells us that by 2030 every continent on Earth will have felt its impact, if they haven’t already.
Urgency is necessary to enable immediate adaptation from climate harm. In this regard, the Academy welcomes the Australian Government’s early commitments to reduce the impacts of coastal erosion and future-proof communities, and measures to strengthen climate resilience and adaptation in the Torres Strait Islands.
Over the last three years, the Academy, via Future Earth Australia, has done some heavy lifting by convening experts and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds across the public and private sectors.
This has led to the publication of a National Strategy for Just Adaptation designed to disrupt current adaptation thinking and foster recognition, inclusion and capacity building for all Peoples and nature.
This work can give the government a head-start on scoping the recently announced National Climate Risk Assessment capability—a national framework to respond to climate risks.
The National Strategy for Just Adaptation moves us from a focus on strictly technological approaches to one that encompasses social, political and behavioural strategies and systems change. In short, it enhances the adaptive capacities of people, places and ecosystems in all their diversity.
Five Priority Reform Areas are offered to embed justice into climate adaptation, including empowering Indigenous leadership, supporting community groups to drive transformation, and advancing adaptation research.
Historically, we have fought and won our greatest challenges such as victory in World War II and developing vaccines and therapeutics to enable us to emerge from a pandemic because we concentrated our efforts, directed our investments, resolutely focused on our goals, and scaled up solutions that were offered by science.
Addressing global warming is no different. The scale is mammoth, but so were our previous challenges.
Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC PresAA FREng FTSE
President, Australian Academy of Science
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