The Australian Academy of Science strongly supports the message of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—humanity has the tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and arrest catastrophic climate change, but we need to act now.
Scientific knowledge underpins the solutions to respond to climate change. We have seen the incredible power of our science capability in enabling rapid response to crises and protecting our society during the pandemic. It is not too late to leverage our skilled workforce, scale up existing technologies and harness our natural resources to urgently cut emissions.
The IPCC report has found that global net greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have continued to rise in the last decade and have increased across all major sectors since 2010. However, the world has made some progress, with the rate of growth in emissions between 2010 and 2019 lower than the previous decade.
Australians are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change which contributed to the recent floods in NSW and QLD, and the 2019–20 summer bushfires. As identified in the Academy’s report The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world, without action, these events are expected to become more frequent and intense in the future.
Without further policy action, global warming between 2.2 and 3.5°C is expected within the next 80 years. All countries and sectors need to act now to limit future warming by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. We need to halve global carbon dioxide emissions within the next decade to have a 50% chance at restricting warming to 1.5°C.
The IPCC report shows a path and the tools to reduce our emissions across energy, industry, cities, agriculture and transport, but rapid, fundamental change is required. Both technological solutions and policy actions are needed to transition to net zero and beyond to net negative emissions.
The report presents opportunities for Australian industries that support our national interest including energy, critical minerals and agriculture. Australia is in a strong position to capitalise on its natural resource wealth including critical minerals such as lithium and copper for clean energy technologies. Green steel and hydrogen are also potential export industries.
Agriculture (and land use) is a large contributor to emissions. Measures such as carbon trading, sustainable crop management, soil carbon management and biochar can improve soil fertility, provide income to farmers and reduce emissions. Conserving ecosystems such as coastal waterways and using our large land mass for afforestation would also help.
Australia’s cities will need to employ solutions such as renewable energies, electrified transport, and carbon uptake and storage through building materials to reduce emissions.
The solutions we need to contribute our fair share to global efforts to reduce emissions are more readily available than ever before. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change on our health, economic security and environment now and into the future, Australia’s leaders must move to swiftly and decisively reduce emissions and deploy scientifically proven technologies that will decarbonise our nation while creating jobs and protecting our economic prosperity.
Professor John Shine AC PresAA FAHMS(Hon) FRS
Australian Academy of Science
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