Australian climate action is heading the right way, just not fast enough

Photo: ANU/TraceyNearmy Professor Mark Howden
5 February 2024

Despite the world not being on track to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius, there are major opportunities for Australia and other countries to reduce emissions at low cost and limit further global warming and its unwanted impacts, a leading climate expert from The Australian National University (ANU) says.

This will be one of the key messages from Professor Mark Howden when he delivers the State of the Climate address at the 2024 ANU Climate Update. “2023 was one of the hottest years on record, with significant records broken by massive margins including low Antarctic sea ice and global temperature increases of more than 2 degrees Celsius on two days in November,” Professor Howden said. “Worryingly, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chage made it very clear that with current slow rates of emission-reduction we aren’t going to be able to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius. “The good news is that we still have options, especially in Australia, to reduce emissions, often at low cost and or indeed with positive financial, environmental or social benefits.

“Here in Australia, we are making significant progress on renewables, which should give us cautious optimism. “For example, in September 2023, renewable energy production on the east coast of Australia supplied nearly 100 per cent of the market for half an hour, demonstrating its rapidly growing capacity. Only a few years ago such a prospect was openly ridiculed by naysayers.

“And we are seeing more ambitious emissions reduction targets from some State governments including the Queensland government’s commitment to 75% reductions by 2035 and net zero by 2050. “Australia is and can continue to be a global leader in this space. We need to take the bull by the horns and keep implementing these vital innovations for the sake of our planet and future generations.” Professor Howden, who is Director of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions and a Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will also dissect the outcomes of COP28 in his address. “There was something for everyone from COP28, with many players able to head home saying that they had a major win for their interest group,” Professor Howden said. “That includes the fossil fuel industry. But on a closer inspection, much of the progress was limited. “For example, one of the most noted statements was the call for a transition away from fossil fuel energy systems being flagged by some as ‘the beginning of the end for the fossil-fuel industries’. However, dissecting the language shows that this was weak, ambiguous in scope and potentially not aligned with the underlying goal of the Paris Agreement. That certainly bears watching in coming years.”

Importantly, given the scale of climate changes last year and the pervasive impacts of these, much greater attention needs to be paid to adapting to climate changes. Australia has much to gain from taking a more integrated and effective approach to this. The 2024 ANU Climate Update takes place online and in-person from 3-6pm on Monday 5 February. In addition to the State of the Climate address, the update will include a panel on moving from climate anxiety to action and featuring teachers who are helping young Australians understand and engage with the issue.

Updated:  5 February 2024/Responsible Officer:  College of Science/Page Contact: