Climate Series: Why We Should Take Action

The previous article in the series explained where greenhouse gas emissions come from. We are already witnessing the early signs of climate change:

  • arctic ice and glaciers are melting,
  • oceans are warming,
  • oceans are becoming more acidic causing coral bleaching,
  • sea-levels are rising’ and
  • rising temperatures lead to an increase in the number, duration and severity of heatwaves and bushfires.

While it may not be possible to predict exactly how fast our climate will change with global warming, scientists have produced forecasts which have been remarkably accurate to date.

The impacts of global warming

Almost all nations signed the Paris Agreement which has a central aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping global temperature rise to well below 2°C and below 1.5°C if possible. Figure 1 shows that the difference between rises of 1.5°C and 2°C has a significant impact on our climate.

Figure 1: Impact of half a degree difference (Source: World Resources Institute)

Worldwide action

While the world has been slow to take decisive action there are now clear signs that world leaders have realised the consequences of inaction and are setting meaningful emissions targets to ensure that the targets underpinning the Paris agreement are met or bettered:

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind the European Commission’s proposal to increase the bloc’s climate target to a 55% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030;
  • China has set a target of net zero by 2060. This is an aggressive target as China is experiencing high growth;
  • Many countries have set targets of net zero by 2050 or earlier;
  • Top Indian companies have reaffirmed their commitment to fighting climate change by taking bold emission reduction targets and promoting renewable energy;
  • The US is currently at a crossroads. If Joe Biden wins the election the US will implement a green new deal;
  • Most Australian states and territories have set targets for net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

What can Australia do?

  • In the electricity sector (33% of emissions) fossil fuels can be replaced overtime by renewable energy like wind and solar, incorporating energy efficiency, demand management and energy storage (like batteries and pumped hydro).
  • In the transport sector (19%) we can shift to public and active transport alternatives and move towards electric cars, bikes, trucks and buses. Biofuels and renewable hydrogen may also play a role.
  • Stationary energy emissions (19%) are on the rise due to LNG, coal and iron ore exports. Increasing the use of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency can lower emissions. However, the LNG plants built recently are costly to change and, with expected lives of 30 to 50 years, will make reductions in this sector difficult.
  • Reducing fugitive emissions (11%) and emissions in agriculture (13%) are more challenging. Solutions and pathways are discussed thoroughly in Australia’s Rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Climate Council) and Decarbonisation Futures (ClimateWorks)

We know how to reduce emissions in key sectors but how quickly can we reduce emissions and what is the cost?  We will consider this in the next article.