Australia Promises to Meet a Pathetic Emissions Goal

Australia leads the world's developed nations in carbon emissions per capita, and the island nation is not doing its part to prevent catastrophic global warming.
Wildfire at Hillview, north of Adelaide River, in Australia. (Photo: Ken Hodge/Flickr)

Wildfire at Hillview, north of Adelaide River, in Australia. (Photo: Ken Hodge/Flickr)

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed plans for the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels. The announcement was quickly followed by criticisms from climate activists and conservationists, worried that the country's goal was less aggressive than most other developed nations' plans to reduce carbon emissions.

For comparison, the United States has publicly set a goal of reducing emissions by 41 percent by 2030, according to the New York Times. "If the rest of the world followed Australia's lead, the Great Barrier Reef would disappear," said Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, the sinking archipelago off the coast of Australia that's pledged to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

Australia, which still relies on coal to produce at least three quarters of its electricity, ranks among the worst carbon emitters per capita of developed nations.

"If the rest of the world followed Australia's lead, the Great Barrier Reef would disappear."

At a media conference, Abbott stated that the emissions reductions would not require the government to stifle the nation's coal industry, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The prime minister called the goal both environmentally and economically responsible. Emphasizing his support for jobs over the environment, Abbott said "we are not going to clobber the economy to protect the environment."

There's a strong irony to Abbott's laissez-faire approach: Research has shown that the country is particularly vulnerable to climate change. If Australia fails to curb emissions, climate models predict that by 2030 the country may experience average temperatures that are up to 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the country's average for the two decades preceding 2005, and 4.5 to 8.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher by 2090, the Guardian reported earlier this year.

"Australia will warm faster than the rest of the world," Kevin Hennessy, a principal research scientist at Australia's national science agency (CSIRO), told the Guardian. "Warming of [4.5 to 8.4 degrees Fahrenheit] would have a very significant effect: there would be increases in extremely high temperatures, much less snow, more intense rainfall, more fires and rapid sea level rises."

Humanity has inarguably been re-shaping our planet's climate for decades, but we are rapidly approaching a crossroads, where even our cumulative best efforts will not be enough to prevent global warming and the all but inevitable hardships of extreme temperatures and weather. The Climate Change Authority, an independent agency in Australia, recommended that the country reduce emissions by 45 to 63 percent below 2005 levels to adequately contribute to worldwide efforts to limit global temperature increases. The prime minister's pledge of what has been called a "pathetic" 26 percent may not be enough to prevent runaway climate change.