Global climate figureheads have welcomed Australia’s increased climate commitments under the Albanese government as a “positive first step”, but said the country needs to do more to match other developed countries and play its part in efforts to limit global heating to 1.5C.
Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, and Laurence Tubiana, known as one of the architects of the Paris climate agreement, told a Canberra conference by video that Labor’s climate change legislation and enhanced commitment to the United Nations were welcome changes. But both said more was needed.
Their speeches coincided with debate in the Senate over the climate bill, which is expected to pass this week with minor changes after the government agreed to some amendments proposed by the independent David Pocock. The legislation includes the national targets of cutting emissions by 43% by 2030 (compared with 2005) and reaching net zero by 2050 and increased advisory powers for the Climate Change Authority.
Ban, now the deputy chair of The Elders, an international non-governmental organisation of public figures, told the Better Futures forum in Canberra that he welcomed the Albanese government prioritising a climate change bill “to lock in new and improved climate ambition”, calling it “the step-up that the world has long been waiting for”.
But he added: “At a minimum the Australian government needs to match the level of ambition for 2030 targets of the United States, the United Kingdom and other trading partners like the European Union and Japan, by at least halving its net emissions this decade.”
He also echoed calls from Pacific island nations for Australia to re-join the green climate fund and “pull its weight in providing funding for poorer nations to undertake climate action”
Tubiana, the French environment minister during the lead-up to the Paris climate summit in 2015 and now the head of the European Climate Foundation, said the increased target the government had submitted to the UN was “a very positive step”, echoing a phrase used by Ban.
“But we all have a long way to go and little time to ramp up. Australia too has a long way to go. The new [commitment] is welcome, but remains insufficiently aligned with 1.5C and with its fair share,” she said.
Tubiana said there was “good and ambitious” work happening in Australian states, territories, communities and companies. “In some ways, the challenge ahead of you now is more daunting: making this moment count,” she said.
Looking ahead to a major UN climate summit in Egypt in November, Tubiana said the debate over climate finance for the developing world would be fierce and called on Australia to “lead the line to offer a new basis of trust” when wealthy countries fell short of their promises. She said that meant working towards the goal of building a $100bn global climate fund and recommitting “to its fair contribution to the world’s climate finance needs”.
The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, confirmed on Tuesday that the government had accepted some of Pocock’s amendments to the climate bill. The legislation was already guaranteed to pass the Senate with support from Greens and the ACT independent.
The amendments backed by Labor say a promised annual ministerial climate statement to parliament must include climate risk assessments and that advice on the annual statement from the Climate Change Authority must be published in advance. The authority must hold a round of public consultation on its advice and must consider what Australia’s fair share of cuts would be recommending future emissions targets.
Pocock said the amendments would improve transparency and accountability. On the bill, he said: “It’s a starting point for Australia. Moving forward there’s clearly a lot more work to be done.”
He criticised Labor for continuing to expand the oil and gas industry while pledging to cut emissions, saying “those two things clearly don’t go together”.
Bowen told Sky News the passage of the bill would mean Australia would “have a climate change act for the first time in more than a decade, and that’s a very good thing for our country because it sends a signal to investors”.
He said he had also agreed to consider a ban on native forest wood burning being counted as renewable energy, a definition that was introduced under the Abbott government.
A Labor-led Senate committee last week recommended the government look at the issue. The minister said the government would release a discussion paper and seek feedback before making a decision.