Australian experts react to COP26

| November 15, 2021

Professor Matthew England is Scientia Professor at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW

“It’s extremely disappointing to see COP26 end like this — coal has to be abandoned for us to secure a safe climate future. Simply phasing down rather than eliminating our reliance on coal is fundamentally at odds with a commitment to net zero by 2050. Net zero cannot be achieved without urgent action to leave the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.”

John O’Brien is Partner, Energy Transition & Decarbonisation at Deloitte. He founded CleanTech and has many years of experience in clean technologies investments and emissions reduction.

“The final agreement in Glasgow is a helpful step forward if limited in its ambition. The final changes in wording from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’ the use of coal will be heavily criticised for failing to secure a 1.5 C goal.

Other side agreements have been much more impactful. 23 countries increasing their emissions targets and agreements were announced to phase out coal in rich countries by 2040, end deforestation by 2030 and reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Even more importantly the finance sector is driving change across whole economies and the companies that operate within them. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), 450 financial firms with $130 trillion of assets under management, committed to net zero for both their operations and their lending and investing. This will impact the financing practices of every bank and lender globally.

COP26 also saw a growing focus on the need to integrate biodiversity, natural capital, oceans into the concept of how to deliver a just and equitable transition for all – whether in regional Queensland or the Sahel.

Despite the summit’s end point, the global transition is accelerating rapidly and will continue to build momentum throughout the 2020s. There is no turning back.”

Kylie Walker is CEO of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering

“COP 26 has kept the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius hanging in the balance. Crucially it keeps the pressure on Australia to return next year equipped with a stronger 2030 target and strengthened implementation framework.

With the emissions projections released on Friday leaving lingering questions on how we transition from rhetoric to action, the Government need look no further than existing mature technologies ready for widespread deployment.

It’s time for a credible and robust plan which maximises Australia’s global leadership position in low-carbon technologies like solar, wind and energy storage (batteries and pumped hydro), combined with electrification of transport and sustainably designed buildings.”

Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, Director of the Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith University

“From a human rights perspective the COP agreement is a failure. 1.5 is the only target that keeps the world safe, including our Pacific neighbours and most of northern Australia. This is not a “near enough is good enough” kind of deal.

The Article 6 carbon market provisions failed to incorporate human rights standards. The fossil fuel provisions have too many carve outs. This was the moment to accept a “loss and damage” mechanism for rich countries to compensate poor countries and accept the injustice of emission impacts but that chance was lost.

But Australia and other nations will have to resubmit their homework next year to show more rigorous and realistic plans to achieve the promises made.

In the future:

We need to kick fossil fuel lobbyists out of the next COP in Cairo.

Australians need to vote climate. We need to understand what is in the balance here for our own increasingly short-term futures. Livable summers, insurable homes, water security, healthy cities, preparedness for weather events. Not to mention the ability to look your grandchildren in the eyes.”

Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

“As usual, the COP-26 conference has ended with some progress, but not enough. Over the six years since the Paris COP, we have seen nearly all countries agree on a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 or soon thereafter, and most developed countries commit to substantial reductions by 2030.

The compromises made to reach a final text have been disappointing, but relatively minor. For example, while “phasing down” coal is less satisfactory than “phasing out”, either contrasts sharply with the view of the Australian government (at least until recently) that coal demand will remain strong indefinitely into the future.”

Dr Pep Canadell, CSIRO Research Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project

“By many measures COP26 was a success. Governments provided more stringent mitigation commitments for short and long-term goals, agreed on new mechanisms to track on the delivery of those promises and further increased their ambition, and touched  on many aspects of equity and financial flows, the latter having the biggest absence on new concrete commitments.

From today on, it is all about making those promises right, and walking the talk. Civil society has the biggest ever role to keep governments accountable to those promises, but governments need to move from words and voluntary commitments to  passing the laws that will ensure the necessary support and compliance mechanisms are in place to meet those commitments in full and on time.”

Neville Nicholls is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Earth, Atmosphere & Environment at Monash University. His first involvement with the IPCC was in its first (1990) assessment and he has twice been a convening lead IPCC author

“COP26 has far exceeded my expectations and has shown that the rest of the world is serious and united about dealing with climate change. This has left Australia in a challenging position. We are vulnerable to climate change, dependent on fossil fuels, seen as recalcitrant by the rest of the world, and likely to face punitive action from our friends and enemies unless we adopt a serious and credible strategy to reduce our emissions.”

Professor Ariel Liebman is Director of the Monash Energy Institute, Chair of ERICA (Energy Research Institute’s Council for Australia), Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems, Dept of Data Science and AI, at Monash University and Program Leader at RACE for 2030 CRC.

“The agreement at COP26, while not going as far as I had hoped, nevertheless can be said to be a significant step forward. The explicit recognition of the role fossil fuels (coal in particular) play in producing climate change have been acknowledged and the need to reduce fossil fuel subsidies is reflected through commitments to reduce these as well as other things.

It is unfortunate that expressed actual commitments fall far short of what is needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees but I am optimistic that there is momentum to make COP27 a real turning point. But I feel that really is the last chance for the 1.5 degree target.

The above issues seem somewhat confused and confusing in that the language of the discussions in general at COP26 still seems to be based on old assumptions around the relative costs of renewable technologies and fossil technologies for the generation of electricity. All countries can now transition to a 100 per cent renewable grid by at least 2035, so the discussion around coal and the last minute softening of the language requested by India seems quite pointless and unnecessary.

The hard to abate sectors are all outside electricity and light transport now with electric vehicles showing a rapid pathway to total decarbonisation of about 50 per cent of global energy use as early as 2035. Hence many of the obstacles seem to now be more political rather than economic. This didn’t seem to cut through in the communications out of COP26 that I have seen.”

Associate Professor Ying Zhang is from the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney

“My reflection on the COP26 is the positive efforts led by the World Health Organisation and health professionals to put health arguments as the focus of climate policies. It is the first time that achieving net zero emission health care systems has been targeted at the COP.

The health professionals are always on the front line to deal with health emergencies. They are enthusiastic to tackle climate emergencies as more than 45 million health workers have signed the Healthy Climate Prescription open letter globally. The most recent Australian MJA-Lancet Countdown report pointed out that “Australia is increasingly out on a limb”.

If the Australian federal government continues to ignore the scientific evidence and the stronger voices from health professionals calling for more climate actions, we will lose more lives and see more serious damage to our economy.”