The Paris Agreement, which Australia has signed and intends to ratify by the year’s end, was a landmark achievement, signalling a strong international commitment to fighting climate change. Yet countries’ near-term commitments under the Paris Agreement fall far short of the effort needed to achieve the stated goals of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

If we want to be reasonably confident that we can keep warming below 1.5°C or even 2°C, climate science shows our remaining “carbon budget” is extremely limited. At the current pace of emissions, we would exhaust the global budget within a few years. Every day we delay increases the chance of failure, with particularly dire implications for the world’s poor, who are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

A reasonable likelihood of limiting warming to below 1.5°C arguably implies a global carbon budget of less than (and perhaps significantly less than) 250 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2) from the start of 2015. Australia’s share of this budget, by the most generous measure, equals less than six years of its current emissions.

Australia faces extremely costly and potentially highly disruptive impacts if global warming exceeds 1.5°C or even 2°C, as is almost certain without much greater mitigation efforts. An equitable and concerted global response to the climate crisis would see Australia, one of the world’s most technologically and economically developed countries, standing at the forefront. Its transformation to a post-carbon era must be rapid and comprehensive, and include diversification away from fossil extraction for energy and export.

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