Op-Ed

A climate-resilient future

As Australians celebrated our national day – Australia Day – on January 26 this year, we reflected on the year past; 2020 tested the strength of our fellow communities, and the resilience of our countries.

It was a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but for Australians it started with the most devastating bushfires in our history.

Nations near and far offered Australia assistance, and people around the world raised funds to help us recover and rebuild. We were heartened by the messages of condolence and support we received from our Caribbean friends.

As with COVID-19, Australia’s bushfires demonstrated the importance of marshalling collective will, innovation, resources and leadership to overcome our most pressing challenges.

The Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands on January 25 and 26 this year was a timely opportunity for the international community, including Australia and countries of the Caribbean, to work together towards a more climate-resilient future.

At the summit, Australia reaffirmed our commitment to ambitious and practical action to combat the impacts of climate change at home, in our region, and around the world.

As the driest inhabited continent in the world, Australia has committed over AUD15 billion to make our natural resources, environment and water infrastructure more resilient to drought and climate disasters.

We are spending more than AUD2 billion on bushfire recovery efforts, supporting local communities to design their own economic, social and environmental recovery. This includes the important job of regenerating habitats, helping native animals recover, and building knowledge for better land management.

Australia also recognizes that climate change is the biggest long-term threat to the health of coral reefs worldwide, including those in the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s national icons.

We’ve committed AUD2.7 billion to the effective management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef to support the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan.

We’ve also launched the AUD150 million Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program that brings together world leading marine science to research strategies that can help reefs recover from bleaching events and to adapt to changing ocean temperatures.

While our adaptation and resilience work starts at home, Australia is also committed to supporting neighboring and global communities to tackle climate change.

Australia has pledged at least AUD1.5 billion over the period 2020 to 2025 for global climate finance; AUD500 million of this funding will directly help our Pacific neighbors deploy renewable energy, and improve their climate change and disaster resilience.

We are joining the Call for Action on Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience, to encourage greater ambition, finance and coordination to protect against growing climate risks.

And Australia has joined the Coalition for Climate Resilience Investment, which aims to shift private investment towards climate resilient infrastructure and support vulnerable communities to attract private sector investment.

Of course, adaptation action must go hand in hand with reducing emissions. We remain resolutely committed to the Paris Agreement and are on track to meet and beat our 2030 target, having reduced emissions by almost 17 percent since 2005. Our emissions have fallen faster than many other advanced economies or the OECD average.

Australians are also building and investing in renewables at world-leading rates. Almost one in four Australian homes now have solar—the highest uptake in the world—and we expect renewables will contribute at least 50 percent of our electricity by 2030.

Australia is aiming to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible. The need to get to net zero is not in dispute — the global community needs to focus on “how”.

Australia is aiming to leverage AUD70 billion of new investment in low emissions technologies by 2030.

We’re focused on accelerating technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture use and storage, soil carbon, energy storage to backup renewables and decarbonize transport, and low or zero emissions steel and aluminium. Our goal is to get the cost of deploying these new technologies to parity with existing, higher-emitting alternatives.

As the world recovers from the economic impact of COVID-19, we need investments that can both accelerate emissions reductions and support jobs and communities.

And emission reductions need to occur across all economies – it won’t be enough to encourage reductions in emissions amongst developed and advanced economies alone.

That’s why we need to reduce emissions in a sustainable and commercially viable way that generates jobs in all economies.

Whether in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, or tackling the ongoing challenge posed by climate change, we need to embrace innovation and strengthen global partnerships.

Our scientists tell us that, even with the most ambitious global emissions reductions, we will still need to adapt to changes in our climate over coming decades. Practical actions that help us adapt to those changes and strengthen the resilience of our local environments are critical.

Australia looks forward to working hand-in-hand with the Caribbean. Together, we will make a difference.

• Bruce Lendon is Australia’s high commissioner to the Caribbean.

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