OpenForum: Australia comes bottom of the class on climate action.

OpenForum: Australia comes bottom of the class on climate action.

Last week, Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (Europe) announced the results of their annual survey of countries’ climate change action throughout the world.

Australia did not fare well in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) coming in at 54th out of 57 responding countries. As many would have predicted we received harsh criticism internationally and again at the climate change meeting in Bonn.

There is no doubt that it is time for Australia to take definitive action in line with the Paris Agreement, which calls for ambitious efforts from all parties to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Many commentators have already conceded that we have no chance of staying within the 1.5˚C limit, and will have extreme difficulty meeting the 2˚C limit unless we make stronger commitments.

Our health and the health of future generations and the whole biosphere are vitally dependent on keeping within these limits.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, 2017 is likely to be the third warmest year since reliable records began. On land we are exposed to an increased risk of extreme fire weather while the surrounding waters have warmed to a depth of at least two kilometers, jeopardising the survival of coral reefs and marine life in general. Rising sea levels, due to both thermal expansion and ice-shelf melt, are now not only a matter of forecasts but a reality.

A recent publication signed by over 15,000 scientists calls for concerted actions in multiple areas if the world is to remain habitable. Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural production of ruminants which release methane. The report particularly emphasises the likelihood of species extinctions in large numbers and a vast reduction in biodiversity by the end of this century if action is not taken on many fronts.

The CCPI is based on three objective measures: carbon emissions, uptake of renewable energy resources and energy use. A fourth measure is more subjective, that of the country’s emission reduction policies. Emissions carry the most weighting at 40%, with weighting of the other categories being divided equally. Energy use is a compilation of recent-past and current use per capita and targets that are in line with a well-below 2˚C warming pathway.

As roughly 80% of the CCPI is an objective measure, the Index can be regarded as an accurate indicator of Australia’s climate performance which can only be seen as shameful. Notable other poor performers are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran, USA, Canada and Japan.

The report by Germanwatch is a timely reminder to nations to improve their act. Australia has been operating with low ambitions and is yet to incorporate significant emission reduction as a major element in energy policy. Even current policy debate with its hastily derived outcomes fails to appreciate the urgency of action.

Can Australia improve its ranking in the CCPI? At this stage, it would appear that a higher ranking can only be achieved by Australia’s states continuing their more ambitious policies in spite of federal condemnation. How much of this criticism is political posturing and how much is generated by ignorance and vested interests is difficult to say, but it is clear that the federal government, for Australia’s and the world’s sakes, needs to lift its game.


Dr John Iser is the Victorian Chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia. He has been a general physician and gastroenterologist.

First published in Open Forum on 24 November 2017

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