Apr 6, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Australian scientists sound alarm over Paris climate goals

A photo of A car submerged in water with the australian flag in the foreground.
A car is seen half submerged in the flood on March 24, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Flavio Brancaleone/Getty Images

The Australian Academy of Science quietly released a report on March 31 that underlines the stakes of President Biden’s April 22 climate summit and the next U.N. climate confab in Glasgow.

The big picture: The report, produced by Australia’s equivalent to the Royal Society of London, heaps doubt upon the feasibility of the Paris Agreement's target of limiting global warming to “well below” 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels by 2100.

It calls the goal “virtually impossible” based on how significantly temperatures have already shifted, and the lack of emissions reduction commitments that would meet the challenge.

The details: Consistent with other recent studies, the report warns the world is on course for at least about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) of warming if current emissions reduction pledges are not dramatically altered.

  • Australia — the world’s driest inhabited continent — has much to lose from climate change, as demonstrated by the recent flooding, wildfires and bleaching of vast stretches of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • As warming worsens, the country’s energy infrastructure will be increasingly stressed by heatwaves and storms. The report recommends “diversifying energy sources” and making systems more resilient.
  • It notes that to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the country would need to “shift energy export industries to zero emissions as a matter of urgency.” That's no small feat, considering that Australia is one of the world’s largest coal exporters, much of it flowing to China.

The bottom line: Unless far more ambitious near-term emissions targets are established, which is the main goal of both the White House and UN climate meetings, the report finds that even the less stringent Paris 2-degree target won’t be achievable. This is because emissions trajectories would begin arcing downward too late to get there.

Go deeper