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Glasgow 2021: anger at Australia’s lagging climate change response

“We [The Climate Council of Australia] did a ranking of about 31 countries in terms of climate action – and Australia ranked 31 out of 31 countries. Dead last.”

Professor Will Steffen, climate councillor at the Climate Council of Australia and Emeritus Professor at ANU, has joined many experts in condemning Australia’s response to the global climate crisis.

World leaders have converged on the British city of Glasgow for this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), looking for stronger commitment to a target of net zero emissions.

But for Australia’a Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, it took a good amount of convincing from numerous world leaders, including Prince Charles, to get him to attend.

The last-minute decision came after weeks of negotiations and heated debates within the Coalition government about setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Glasgow 2021: anger at Australia’s lagging climate change response

Emeritus Professor and climate councillor Professor Will Steffen. Picture: Aaron Carriero via Zoom

However, climate experts say the Australian Government’s commitment is still not enough, and the country is falling hugely behind when it comes to its climate change response.

Prof Steffen said Australia had a much larger obligation to commit to the issue.

I think we could do far more than most countries in getting emissions down, given our enormous renewable resources – solar and wind.

“There’s so many lines of evidence to say that Australia should go much harder and much faster and it’s to our benefit, not only in terms of climate but in terms of economy, employment, regional development, and all those things,” he said.

When asked what could be behind the Australian Government’s hesitancy around the commitment, Prof Steffen said it could be based around the politicisation of the issue.

“Basically, in my own personal view it’s two reasons … unfortunately climate change has become a partisan issue politically – it’s now a political ideological stance for them [the Coalition government].”

“The second thing is, I think, vested interest – the big fossil fuel industries obviously want to block effective action on climate change – and I think they have a strong influence on the Coalition government,” he said.

The Australian Federal election of 2013 was a turning point for climate action within Australia, when the Tony Abbott-led Liberal/National Coalition won power.


Prof Steffen explains what Australia should be doing to meet the demands of the climate crisis. Picture of Scott Morrison in Parliament by Nick Haggarty

Years of inaction by the Australian Government has made experts both from within and outside Australia particularly concerned,Professor Steffen said.

“I think it’s going to be a bad outcome for us if the rest of the world moves more vigorously and I think they will, coming out of Glasgow – It’s going to damage us economically and its certainly is going to damage us in terms of our standing in the international community – we already have a very damaged standing now,” he said.

The potential effects of climate change come as a worry especially for younger generations, who fear their futures could be in danger.

Swinburne student Hamish Dobie is among those who fear the government isn’t doing enough for his future. 

“I feel the government … are trying to keep their seats – I don’t believe they are doing a good job in terms of climate change. I think they’re beating around the bush,” he said.

However, there are signs that the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow could signal a change of pace for the world and even Australia, whether it be through a change in pressure and attitude, or a change in government.

Prof Steffen can see the potential for a positive outcome. 

 “I think if we do have a change of government at the federal level it would likely be, and I’m only guessing, probably Labor with a coalition with Greens and Independents – that would give you a platform for much stronger action on climate change,” he said.

“I think we would see much more ambitious targets by 2030,” he said.

COP26, one of the most important climate-based events of the year, could signal change and hope for the world of the future.

“I think [COP26] is going to have big effect globally and hopefully a very positive one, if we get the big players on board to really enhance and strengthen their commitments – that’s going to send a very strong message to the rest of the world,” he said.  

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