Australia’s new centre-left government submitted more ambitious emissions targets to the United Nations on Thursday, seeking to end a decade of slowing climate change.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raised the country’s emissions reduction target for 2030 to 43%, from a previous more modest target of 26% to 28%.
The new target “sets Australia up for a prosperous future, a future powered by cleaner and cheaper energy”, Albanese said.
Despite being ravaged by floods, fires and droughts, Australia has long been seen as a laggard when it comes to climate action.
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The vast country-continent abounds in fossil fuel deposits and is one of the world’s leading exporters of coal and gas.
Coal still plays a key role in national electricity production.
In 2022, MIT ranked Australia 52nd out of 76 countries in its Green Future Index, which assesses how far countries are moving towards an environmentally sustainable economy.
The “climate wars”
But Albanese made emissions cuts a centerpiece of his recent election campaign and pledged to “end the climate wars” that have led to decades of political stagnation.
Albanese sought to frame the decision as an economic boon: “What companies want is investment certainty,” he said.
The Business Council of Australia welcomed the raised targets, saying they “should be a line in the sand”.
“Australia cannot afford to delay progress again because failure will see Australians miss out on new opportunities, new industries and better jobs,” said council chief executive Jennifer Westacott.
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‘Take the chance’
Albanese said on Thursday that world leaders had “all welcomed Australia’s shift in stance” on climate action in conversations with them since taking power last month.
The issue of reducing fossil fuel emissions and exports was a key point of tension between the previous Australian government and Pacific leaders, who have called climate change the biggest threat to their region.
Albanese tried to avoid criticism that higher targets could hurt Australian jobs by saying he wanted to “seize the opportunity before us to act on climate change”.
The new targets would give companies the certainty they needed to “invest over a period longer than the three-year policy cycle”, he said.
But it has so far refused to set a deadline for phasing out coal, in line with other wealthy countries.
Even before the announcement, Australia’s fossil fuel industry was in flux, with many large companies seeking to decarbonise their operations.
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On Wednesday, global miner BHP announced that it had been unable to find a buyer for its coal mines in the Australian state of New South Wales and would instead close the project by 2030. .
The news came just a day after fossil fuel giant BP announced it would take a 40.5% stake in a renewable energy project in Australia billed as the world’s largest power station.
Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, BP’s executive vice president of gas and low-carbon energy, said the company believed “Australia has the potential to be a powerhouse in the global energy transition”.
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