Coal-rich Australia unveiled a much-delayed 2050 net zero emissions target on October 26, but shied away from setting more ambitious goals ahead of a landmark UN climate summit.
Widely seen as a climate laggard, Australia is one of the world’s largest coal and gas exporters and its conservative government has resisted climate action for most of its eight-year term.
Announcing the shift, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians wanted a strategy that “does the right thing on climate change and secures their future in a changing world”.
However, he refused to strengthen 2030 emissions reduction targets seen as crucial for meaningful climate change action, while vowing to work to keep mines operating for as long as possible.
“We want our heavy industries, like mining, to stay open, remain competitive and adapt, so they remain viable for as long as global demand allows,” he wrote in an opinion article released by his office.
Australia has previously agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, a target Morrison has claimed the country will “meet and beat”.
“We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia,” he wrote. “We will also not be breaking the pledge we made at the last election by changing our 2030 emission reductions targets.”
The announcement comes just days before Morrison departs for next month’s UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Australia’s reluctance to act had been criticised by close allies such as the US and Britain, as well as Pacific island neighbours that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The coalition government also found itself increasingly out of step with Australians’ attitudes as they suffered a series of climate-worsened droughts, bushfires and floods.
A 2021 poll by the Lowy Institute think tank found 78 per cent of Australians back a 2050 net zero target, while 63 per cent support a national ban on new coal mines.
The country’s greatest natural tourist drawcard, the Great Barrier Reef, has been badly damaged by waves of mass coral bleaching as ocean temperatures rise.