Why avoiding 2 degrees of global warming matters for Australians Factsheet

Apr 13, 2015 - 11:42am

Key points

  • It is in Australia’s national interest to help avoid a 2°C  increase in global temperature above pre-industrial levels ( 2°C goal). Over 190 countries have committed to contribute to this goal.

  • Historically in Australia there has been bipartisan support around the 2°C goal. However, the central energy policy scenario being used by the government would lead to around 4°C global temperature change. In Australia this level of warming would see significant detrimental impacts, including the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, severe damage to coastal infrastructure and settlements, and strains on the capacity to meet food demand due to agricultural impacts.

  • The scenario being used by the government also assumes little or no new policies to further clean up and decarbonise energy systems over the next 25 years. Relying on this scenario is a gamble that other countries won’t act on air pollution, clean energy and climate change. 

Australia's national interest

Global warming puts weather systems on steroids. Australia, already a land of extreme weather, is very vulnerable. CSIRO says that Australia is already experiencing climate impacts. 

Under the UNFCCC’s Cancun Agreements and Durban Platform for Enhanced Ambition, Australia made undertakings to help avoid a 2 °C increase in global temperature and to raise short-term emission reduction ambitions. In the latest Intergenerational Report, the government recognised the internationally agreed goal of avoiding 2°C and the global collective goal has enjoyed bipartisan political support.

Given that we are likely to be more adversely impacted by climate change than other comparable countries (Table 1), Australia has a strong interest in achieving deeper and more rapid reductions in global emissions. 

However, current projections suggest that the actions countries have taken to date would limit warming to around 4 °C by 2100. This is the central scenario used by the government in make policy decisions today. 

Global warming of this magnitude is projected to produce the following consequences in Australia: significant loss of species (including the Great Barrier Reef), dangerous water shortages, severe damage to coastal infrastructure and settlements, large areas of agricultural land taken out of production, strains on the capacity to meet food demand, and major risks to human life from extreme climate events (Table 1).

Fossil fuels in a 2°C world

Australia is one of the most carbon intensive advanced economies. Global action to limit emissions will impact on some of our exports (for example, coal and gas). To limit warming to less than 2°C, emissions from the burning of fossil fuels will need to be net zero by 2050. This is recognised and widely supported by conservative institutions such as the IPCC, World Bank, OECD and others.

Global advances in renewable energy technology are already driving the domestic uptake of new industries while at the same time eroding the revenues of our domestic coal-fired electricity generators. These trends are now unavoidable and it is in Australia’s national interest to position our economy for this transition, and take advantage of the economic opportunities it offers.

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