UN urges Australia to speed up transition from coal

Hand holding large piece of coal (UN)

The Australian Government should increase its efforts to phase out coal or else climate change will dramatically damage the country’s economy, United Nations (UN) special adviser on climate change Selwin Hart said on Sunday.

Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but the government has steadfastly backed fossil fuel industries, saying tougher action on emissions would cost jobs, Reuters reported.

“We fully understand the role that coal and other fossil fuels have played in Australia’s economy, even if mining accounts for a small fraction—around 2 per cent—of overall jobs,” Hart said in a speech at the Australian National University.

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“But it’s essential to have a broader, more honest and rational conversation about what is in Australia’s interests.”

The UN has called for phasing out coal by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, which include Australia.

In July, energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 big economies failed to deliver a deal to phase out coal by 2025. But some experts said there were chances of progress at UN climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is on a path to net zero carbon emissions but has stopped short of committing to a timeline. He has said that Australia would update its 2030 emissions projections going into the Glasgow talks. Most other developed countries have signed up to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Hart said that the Australian government should “seize the moment” and switch to renewables.

“If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy: from agriculture to tourism, and right across the services sector,” he said.

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Hart’s comments are timely, following the publication of quarterly emissions data by the federal government.

The Climate Council says Australia should aim for a 75 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said: “[The] emissions data release proves the federal government’s climate response is woefully inadequate.

“They say we’re ‘on track’ to cut emissions by one-third of 1 per cent (0.28 per cent) per year over the next decade. That is a snail’s pace—not the rapid and deep reductions we need to be making this decade.”