'Cause for great concern': Australia ranked last in global assessment on climate action

Australia’s record on climate change has been panned in the latest Climate Change Performance Index tracking nation’s efforts to combat global warming.

Activists from School Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion march towards the Parliament of Western Australia, November 2019.

Activists from School Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion march towards the Parliament of Western Australia, November 2019. Source: AAP

Australia’s climate change record has been ranked among the bottom five nations in the world in a global assessment of countries' emissions trajectories.  

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) measures the emissions, renewable energy share and climate policies of 57 countries and the European Union.

It has been released at COP25, the UN climate summit being held in Madrid, as nations attempt to thrash out the way forward on the global Paris framework responding to the crisis.

Energy Minister, Angus Taylor at the COP25 UN Climate Summit in Madrid, Spain.
Energy Minister, Angus Taylor at the COP25 UN Climate Summit in Madrid, Spain. Source: EFE

According to the report, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States give “cause for great concern” over their performance on emissions, renewable energy development and climate policy.

Australia’s climate policy rating was ranked the lowest in the world with analysts noting that “the newly elected government continued to worsen performance at both national and international levels.”

Its policies were given a 0.0 rating, in comparison the United Stated ranked one position higher held a 2.8 rating and the top-performing nation Portugal received a 98.7.  

“National experts observe a lack of progress in these areas with the [Australia] government failing to clarify how it will meet the country’s insufficient 2030 emissions reduction target and inaction in developing a long-term mitigation strategy,” the report reads.

"While the government is not proposing any further targets for renewable energy beyond 2020, it continues to promote the expansion of fossil fuels and in April 2019 approved the opening of the highly controversial Adani coalmine."

Across the assessment, Australia ranked 44th on emissions, 50th on renewable energy, 52nd on energy use and 61st on climate policy.

Australia has defended its record on climate change.
Australia has defended its record on climate change. Source: EFE

"The world needs action to reduce emissions and Australia believes technology will be a key driver of the global transition to lower emissions," he said.

“We can only reduce emissions, as fast as the deployment of commercially viable technology allows. This means, we need to get the right technology to the marketplace, when and where it is needed."

Australia has pledged to reduce emissions by 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 as part of the Paris agreement.

However, government projections show more than half that target will be achieved through carryover credits from achieving goals of the previous Kyoto protocol.

The report found the US ranked last, followed by Saudi Arabia and soon after Australia at 56th, although several countries did report falls in emissions last year, largely due to an industry-wide fade out of coal.

While climate performance varied greatly - even within the EU, with Sweden leading the way - the report found that none of the countries surveyed were currently on a path compatible with the Paris climate goals.

The 2015 accord saw nations agree to work towards limiting global temperature rises to "well below" two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

China, the world's largest single emitter, was found to have taken "medium action" due to its high investment in renewables.

However, the index warned that Beijing could slump to the bottom rungs if it follows through on its plan to continue building coal-fired power plants.

Ursula Hagen from the environmental watchdog Germanwatch, who co-authored the accompanying report, said both the US and China were "at a crossroads" on climate.

"The index shows signs of a global turnaround in emissions, including declining coal consumption. However, several large countries are still trying to resist this trend - above all the USA," she said.

"Much will depend on further developments in China and the elections in the USA."

Delegates are gathered at the COP 25 in Madrid to devise ways of putting the Paris plan in action, but key sticking points remain over emissions trading schemes and how the fight against climate change is funded.

"This science-based assessment shows again that in particular the large climate polluters do hardly anything for the transformational shift we need," said Stephan Singer from the Climate Action Network.

He said nations need to implement "deep emissions reductions to curtail the run to potentially irreversible climate change".

The global assessment cited destructive bushfires in Australia as a "pre-summer heatwave hits the country" as one example of the magnitude of the global climate crisis. 

With additional reporting from AFP and AAP.

4 min read
Published 11 December 2019 at 7:55am
By Tom Stayner