Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter—Climate change special edition April 2021

Science Policy and Diplomacy special edition April 2021
 

The Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter of the Australian Academy of Science highlights important science policy discussion and events in Australia and around the globe. We report on the involvement of science in national and international policy and diplomacy, and the Academy’s contributions to these discussions.

This special climate change edition of the Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter highlights the role of science in Australia’s national response to climate change, particularly the Academy’s report, ‘The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world’, and the international response to climate change.

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The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world

The Australian Academy of science released a landmark report, The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world, on 31 March 2021. The report calls on the Australian Government to accelerate Australia’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next 10 to 20 years to play our part in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

 

The report, which explores the risks to Australia’s future based on the current global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, states that the world reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is an absolute minimum if Australia is to avoid potentially insurmountable challenges to its cities, ecosystems, industries and food and health systems.

The report says Australia is well positioned to play its part in meeting this challenge, with a skilled workforce, strong industrial base and plentiful renewable energy resources facilitating easier emission reductions compared to many other countries.

It highlights that even if the world’s governments meet their current Paris pledges on time, Earth is likely to reach average global surface temperatures of 3°C above the pre-industrial period during this century, with catastrophic consequences.

Figure 1. Projected warming by 2100 under various scenarios

Graph: Projected warming by 2100 under various scenarios
Projected warming by 2100 under various scenarios from top to bottom (Climate Action Tracker 2020; Revill and Harris 2017): ‘Baseline’ models assume no action on reducing GHG emissions while ‘current polices’ are based on current commitments and policies made by the international community. ‘Optimistic polices’ include additional pledges that governments have made as of December 2019. ‘Pledges and Targets’ are conditional and have not yet been implemented. Pathways for ‘1.5°C’ and ‘2°C’ are scenarios based on models run for IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C (IPCC 2018). Temperatures of each scenario are shown as a range arising from different climate models. Figure: Australian Academy of Science.

 

Further pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 are required for the world to stay well below 2°C of warming, the goal agreed to under the Paris Agreement.

To achieve net zero, the report says Australia will need to rapidly remove greenhouse gas emissions from a range of sectors including electricity generation and distribution; electrify the transport sector, industry and buildings; increase energy efficiency across the board; and reduce non-energy related GHG emissions from all sectors including industrial processes and agriculture.

Discussion of the report’s findings and implications are included in articles from The Conversation (written by two of the report’s authors), The Guardian, and Cosmos Magazine. These articles discuss the most serious findings of the report, but most importantly share the call from scientists for the Australian Government to take steps to avoid a 3°C warmer world.

Australia’s climate change response

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine, said of the report that “Australia is well positioned to meet the climate change challenge by combining our scientific knowledge with economic opportunities associated with moves to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.”

Australia is well positioned to meet the climate change challenge by combining our scientific knowledge with economic opportunities associated with moves to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

A primary focus of the report is the impact of the increase in global temperatures on Australia. Within the 10 recommendations of the report, the Academy calls on the Australian Government to accelerate Australia’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next 10 to 20 years to play our part in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Below are resources outlining Australia’s current approaches to climate change and articles sharing the impact of increasing temperatures in Australia.

Traditional Owners and scientists working to tackle common climate challenge

More than 120 traditional owners and scientists from CSIRO have met at the National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change. The Gathering empowers and enhances the First People’s-led response to climate change. Discussions aim to provide communities with the tools to respond to climate change-induced events like marine heatwaves, rising sea levels, bushfires and heatwaves, all of which have significant impacts on First Peoples on Country, particularly in remote and isolated communities.

Australian Government’s climate change response

An article in The Australian, Softly, softly on climate may deliver elusive results, discusses the changing narrative of the Australian Government’s actions and perspectives on climate change. The government is undertaking a response backed by a rhetoric of ‘quiet determination’, a different approach to past governments led by Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd. This article offers insight into the changing posture of the Australian Government to climate action.

The rapidly emerging crisis on our doorstep

A Strategic Insight Report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) warns that the changing climate will expose Australia’s neighbours in the Southeast Asian region to climate hazards that could have real impacts on Australia protecting and projecting its national interests in the region. The rapidly emerging crisis on our doorstep details the climate vulnerabilities of Australia’s neigbours and discusses the necessity of the Australian Government to begin thinking about political, economic and security tipping points generated by climate change before the worst effects of climate change are felt in the region. An overview and discussion of the report’s findings can be found in an article from The Conversation.

International climate change response

Climate change is a global issue, impacting all countries. The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world report also calls for the international community to take policy actions for a positive future and to stay well below 2°C and avoid 3°C. Below are resources outlining international responses to climate change.

A co-author of the Academy's report, Distinguised Professor Lesley Hughes, said “It’s not too late to avoid 3°C. We should still be aiming for a stable global temperature below 2°C but to get to that point, we must reduce emissions very rapidly—in particular accelerating the energy transition in the next decade. This must be one of the most urgent national and international priorities.”

It’s not too late to avoid 3°C. We should still be aiming for a stable global temperature below 2°C but to get to that point, we must reduce emissions very rapidly—in particular accelerating the energy transition in the next decade. This must be one of the most urgent national and international priorities.

2021 a ‘crucial year’ for climate change

UN Secretary-General , António Guterres, has notified Member States that the world is far from achieving agreed goals to reduce global warming in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. He shared this warning at meeting held in February as part of preparations for the next annual UN climate conference, known as COP26, which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. COP26 offers countries an opportunity to work together to meet their commitments to the Paris Agreement and come together as a global community to tackle climate change, as 2021 continues to be labelled the ’make-or-break year’ for people and planet. Find out more about COP26 and why it matters in this article published by the World Economic Forum.

More floods, fires and cyclones—plan for domino effects on sustainability goals

An article published by Nature discusses the necessity for researchers to create new models, better metrics and more investment, as cascades of extreme events could derail the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As climate change is provoking ever-more-extreme events, from storms and droughts to floods and cyclones, these risks have far-reaching cascading impacts. Using examples of disasters and their impacts on various countries, the article analyses the potential for researchers to create new models for policymakers that will influence them to invest in precautionary measures and adaptation.

Net zero pledges grow; ambition falls short

A recent report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has found that many net zero commitments, while a sign of good intention, lack the high levels of ambition required to keep global warming below 1.5°C , as defined in the 2015 Paris Agreement. ‘Taking Stock: A global assessment of net zero targets’ assessed the net zero commitments of significant entities, countries, large cities and large companies, to find that while net zero pledges grow; ambition falls short of meeting the necessary reduction in greenhouse gases to meet the Paris Agreement.


The Australian Academy of Science occasionally partners with Australian Government departments and other science and research organisations to produce independent research reports and science advice, and facilitate international science linkages on their behalf. If you are interested in working with the Academy please contact us.

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