The United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, held its 26th conference over the past week. The significance of this meeting lies in the renewal of climate pledges and ambitions under the ratchet mechanism, a five year process initially instated as part of the Paris Agreement framework. The purpose of this is to 'ratchet up' contributions to mitigating climate change, intending to form a more robust system of accountability for participants. Renewed targets and commitments have been a key outcome of the conference thus far. Nations have pledged to limit temperature increases to 1.5C by 2050, while ambitiously cutting emissions by 45% by 2030. Carbon neutrality was another key focus, with over 100 nations committing to achieving the status and reaching net zero by 2050.
Infamously, Australia's flaccid response to vigorous climate action has drawn the ire of critics across the globe. Ostensibly, policy pledges such as $20bn in investment for low-emissions technologies and a 2030 commitment to cut emissions by 26% against 2005 levels have been welcome developments. However, in what has been described as "the Australian way" to reduce emissions, the specifics of these changes were noticeably obfuscated as many remain sceptical as whether all this is just a last-ditch showing to save face on the global stage. Business and academic leaders have been quick on the offensive front, with Susan Rimmer of Griffith University calling the plan a "pathetic national position to take to COP26". Others such as Lord Deben, the Climate Change Committee chair, have voiced their disappointment at the lack of stronger commitments to emissions reduction, and criticised the coating of old policies with new paint. Australia is caught in precarious policy junction, having to choose between joining the pack of countries leading the charge on immediate environmental reform, or to remain in its inextricable love affair with coal. For many, the choice is obvious. Australia has already felt the impact of climate change, with the continent warming 1.44C since 1910. The nation has also become increasingly prone to natural disaster, the 2019-20 bushfire season a timely reminder of the potential scale of environmental devastation, while tropical cyclones and storm events have become more frequent. With its lacklustre showing at COP26, there's clearly a way to go before Australia can shed its persona as a climate recalcitrant.