Australia and COP27

22 November 2022  |  

The COP27 meeting in Egypt must ultimately be judged a failure. While the inclusion of loss and damage in the final deal was a step forward, we can’t ignore that after nearly 30 years of COP the world still can’t agree to phase out fossil fuels as part of the agreements.

The 636 representatives of the fossil fuel industry who attended would be pleased with this outcome. Representatives from the fossil fuel industry outnumbered China’s delegates 10 to 1.

Australia’s Federal government will claim it as a success. However, new data revealing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than reported means pressure is on to go well beyond current commitments.

Despite praise by US envoy John Kerry on Australia’s climate ‘U-turn’ for the Albanese government’s commitment to a 43% emission reduction target by 2030, after 10 years of inaction, much more will be expected of Australia to play our part in preventing global climate breakdown.

When we hear the government talk up their climate credentials we need to bear in mind

new data released by ClimateTRACE this week which shows that Australia’s domestic emissions were likely to be 640 Mt CO2-e in 2021 – more than 20% higher than we reported to the UNFCCC (488Mt).

The new emissions tracker ClimateTRACE uses satellite monitoring of more than 70,000 sites worldwide to produce real-time, facility-level #globalemissions inventories. The tracker, produced by a non-profit coalition, was launched by former US vice president Al Gore at COP27 in Egypt.

This discrepancy is equivalent to roughly twice the volume of emissions from the agriculture sector (77Mt).

Worse still is the continued contribution made by the fossil fuel export industry. Being one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap tax-payer subsidised fossil fuels is a major contribution to climate change. No amount of ‘arms dealer’ defences from governments and big corporations can mask that fact that supplying fossil fuels is a crucial part of the carbon equation and ought to be allocated some share of the blame.

In Australia’s case, the emissions from exported fossil fuels are double our domestic emissions and they have been rising steadily over the last 5 years. Those emissions are bigger than the emissions of the UK.

So where does this leave us?

First of all, we need to properly measure and account for ALL of our actual domestic emissions to combat our contribution.

The higher level of emissions found by ClimateTRACE also means our debt to the world is greater, especially in regard to the finance we ought to be providing to our struggling Pacific neighbours who face existential threats from climate change.

It also means that thinking that we can just ramp up some domestic emissions reductions measures while continuing to make it cheaper and easier for others to burn fossil fuels is no longer credible. Australia and other countries in this position – Norway, Canada, USA – can’t keep turning up to COP meetings and claim to be climate champions when they continue to support cheap fossil fuel production.

Similarly, banks that finance the mines and associated infrastructure must also bear some of the responsibility. Australia’s big four banks have loaned coal, oil and gas projects over A$44 billion since 2016 despite having net zero pledges.

What direct emissions did that funding cause? Almost zero, yet it is a huge contribution to climate change.

Real global leadership on this issue means full acknowledgement of our actual contribution and doing something about it. To be truly meaningful, our ‘net zero’ commitments ought to include the full range of emissions as well as ‘net zero contributions from exports’.


Published in

Independent Australia

Interview on Hong Kong Radio