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New focus on climate change adaptation but no sign of 2050 emissions commitment

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Australia is joining international efforts to prepare for a changing climate ahead of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow later this year, but critics are still demanding it makes new commitments to reduce emissions.

Australia has joined Canada and the EU in signing up to an international call for climate adaptation and resilience.

It was originally put forward by the UK and signed by 118 countries in 2019.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Australia was “joining global partnerships and taking the lead in building resilient communities”.

“Climate adaptation is about taking practical actions to help our environment, our communities and our economy deal with the impacts of climate change that are already taking place,” she said.

The text of the document reads, “we stand together as global leaders to express our highest concern at the climate crisis that the world is now facing, and our resolve to act”, and identifies three areas of commitments:

Acting now to respond to immediate climate impacts and to support the most vulnerable members of society;

Building resilient futures by putting climate risk at the centre of decision making; and

Urgently increasing the availability of adaptation and resilience finance.

The Minister also revealed Australia would commit to the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, which encourages investment decisions to factor in climate risks.

Australia has pledged to lower carbon emissions by 26 per cent, based on 2005 levels, by 2030.

But it has still not made a formal commitment to achieve new zero emissions by 2050, nor has it offered targets between 2030 and 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he wasn’t interested in making new commitments but would pursue emissions reducing technologies, like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen.

“That is how you actually get to net zero. You don’t get there by just having some commitment,” he told The Australian newspaper.

“That is where the discussion has to go, and I think the [new United States] Biden administration provides an opportunity to really pursue that with some enthusiasm.”

More than 100 countries including the UK have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and China has committed to achieving it by 2060.

Joe Biden campaigned on a platform of net zero emissions by 2050 in the US presidential election and has vowed to keep climate at the centre of all government decisions.

Move welcomed but more asked

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate program manager Gavan McFadzean welcomed Ms Ley’s announcement but called for a 2050 emissions commitment.

“If the Morrison Government thinks it can convince the global community that by engaging in adaptation it has fulfilled its climate change responsibilities, it’s badly misread the room,” he said.

“By November’s COP in Glasgow, the world will expect Australia to commit to at least net zero emissions reduction before 2050, with clear and measurable policies and interim targets to show how we will get there.”

Labor’s climate change spokesman Mark Butler said the Government had a track record of failing to prepare for climate adaptation and called for a net zero emissions by 2050 pledge.

“The Government completely excluded climate adaptation from their 2017 Review of Climate Change Policies,” he said.

“They cut funding for significant adaptation work at CSIRO, completely de-funded the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and produced a new National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework that fails to take climate change seriously.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt said “the Coalition is driving us off the climate cliff, but want to let us know they’ve packed a box of band-aids for the trip”.

“If the Government can commit to ‘ambitious’ mitigation targets, it should commit to ambitious prevention targets, too, otherwise Scott Morrison is just making the climate crisis worse.”

Mr Morrison told the Business Council of Australia AGM in November: “Looking beyond 2030 we want to reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible and to achieve this through technology, not higher taxes either directly through government sanctioned electricity prices or as a result of a carbon tax.”

In a call with Mr Morrison in October, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasised the need for “bold action” to address climate change.

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