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UN doesn't 'hold out' hope Australia will act on climate change

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres has criticised Australia for its climate change response (Image by James Dowson | Flickr)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently named Australia a "hold out" on setting stronger emissions reduction targets, writes Michael Mazengarb.

THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called out the vested interests working to slow efforts to decarbonise the global economy – singling out Australia – while the head of the United Nations has slammed government and businesses leaders for“lying” about acting on climate change.

Recently, the IPCC published the report of its third working group — which focuses on the substantial and rapid cuts to global emissions needed to limit global warming to safer levels.

The report found that switching to lower-cost renewables would deliver some of the deepest and cheapest cuts to global emissions but warned that vested interests across both government and big business were holding this transition back.

Australia received the dubious honour of being recognised by the IPCC as a country where lobbying and opposition from fossil fuel industries have had the most success at frustrating climate action.

According to the IPCC report:

'Obstacles include both entrenched power relations dominated by vested interests that control and benefit from existing technologies and governance structures that continue to reproduce unsustainable patterns of production and consumption...' 

The report adds:

One factor limiting the ambition of climate policy has been the ability of incumbent industries to shape government action on climate change. Incumbent industries are often more concentrated than those benefiting from climate policy and lobby more effectively to prevent losses than those who will gain.


Drawing upon wider networks, campaigns by oil and coal companies against climate action in the U.S. and Australia are perhaps the most well-known and largely successful of these...

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who recently named Australia as a "hold out" on setting stronger emissions reduction targets, later again took aim at the “dangerous radicals” he said were pushing for the expansion of fossil fuel industries.

Stated Guterres:

Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. 


Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness. Such investments will soon be stranded assets — a blot on the landscape and a blight on investment portfolios.

As the IPCC details, this group includes Australia and the Morrison Government, which has poured substantial taxpayer funds into supporting the expansion of Australia’s coal and gas industries.

Proving the point, this week Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt celebrated the high prices of coal, oil and gas – driven to new highs due to global conflict – welcoming the extra profits being earned by fossil fuel companies.

In a scathing assessment of government and businesses leaders, Guterres said that some had been lying about their responses to the climate change threat and criticised those still backing the fossil fuel industry.

Guterres said:

"We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5⁰C limit agreed in Paris. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency."

Added Guterres:

“Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts. But, high‑emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames."

The IPCC report, published on Tuesday, is the third in a set of reports detailing an authoritative statement of climate change science, its expected impacts and how the world may avoid its worst impacts.

The level of action described by the IPCC as being necessary to keep global warming to within liveable levels will necessarily require abandoning most of the world’s fossil fuel resources.

The IPCC report said that fossil fuel infrastructure faced a substantial risk of becoming stranded investments, particularly under scenarios consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The IPCC report states

Limiting global warming to 2⁰C or below will leave a substantial amount of fossil fuels unburned and could strand considerable fossil fuel infrastructure... The combined global discounted value of the unburned fossil fuels and stranded fossil fuel infrastructure has been projected to be around 1–4 trillion dollars from 2015 to 2050 to limit global warming to approximately 2⁰C, and it will be higher if global warming is limited to approximately 1.5⁰C.

The report adds:

'In this context, coal assets are projected to be at risk of being stranded before 2030, while oil and gas assets are projected to be more at risk of being stranded toward mid-century. A low-emission energy sector transition is projected to reduce international trade in fossil fuels.'

Director of climate and environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), Dan Gocher, said fossil fuel companies would ultimately be held accountable for their efforts opposing action on climate change.

Said Gocher:

'Their business-as-usual approach – and opportunistic exploitation of geopolitical events – will create a reckoning of future climate disasters. While standing in their ivory towers, these vested interests continue to roadblock those industries that stand to benefit from a rapid transition.'

Gocher added:

'The companies and industry associations responsible for lobbying against ambitious climate policy must be held to account by their shareholders. This starts with voting against climate plans and the re-election of directors.'

Michael Mazengarb is a Sydney based journalist. This article was originally published on RenewEconomy and is republished with permission.

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