Turning back to fossil fuels due to the global energy shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be “madness” and risk “mutually assured destruction”, the United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has warned in a speech to an energy and climate summit.
After the “naive optimism” that marked the Glasgow climate talks, the goal to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees is in “intensive care” with emissions caused by energy soaring to new highs in 2021 as the world economy rebounded from the pandemic, said Mr Guterres.
Mr Guterres laid the blame at the feet of wealthy nations in general and called out Australia in particular.
“If we want to stop global warming, we need to go to the source – the G20,” said Mr Guterres in a speech to a climate summit in London hosted by The Economist magazine on Monday evening Australian time.
“The developed and emerging economies of the G20 account for 80 per cent of all global emissions.
“A growing number of G20 developed economies have announced meaningful emissions reductions by 2030 – with a handful of holdouts, such as Australia.”
He said it was good news that all G20 nations, including economic powerhouses like China, Japan and Korea, had agreed to stop funding coal use abroad, but now they needed to end domestic coal use if we were to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
“As major economies pursue an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5 degrees,” Mr Guterres said.
“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use.
“This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.
“As current events make all too clear, our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises.”
A spokesman for Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said that while global emissions are forecast to increase by around 14 per cent this decade, Australia’s emissions are forecast to fall by up to 15 per cent.
“The Morrison Government will continue to take real and practical action to reduce emissions – and reduce the cost of the technologies that will make net zero practically achievable,” he said.
Last week an analysis by scientists at Climate Resource and commissioned by WWF found that Australia was on track to emit twice as much greenhouse gas as it should if the nation was to do its fair share of keeping the world to 1.5 degrees.
Mr Guterres’ speech comes as scientists nervously watch record-breaking heat waves at both poles and a marine heatwave that has already begun to cause widespread bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.
Last week warm moist air from southern Australia travelled south and penetrated unusually deep into east Antarctica, driving temperatures up by between 10 and 40 degrees above normal.
“It could have just been a freak weather event. That happens. But if this starts happening regularly it would be seriously terrifying,” said Dr Will Hobbs, a scientist with the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership at the University of Tasmania.
Also last week a so-called “bomb cyclone” drew warm air from North America into the Arctic, driving temperatures to 10 degrees above average during what should be the region’s coldest period.
Meanwhile, a team of UNESCO experts has arrived in Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef to report on the health of the reef to the World Heritage Committee. Its visit coincides with a marine heatwave that caused another outbreak of coral bleaching on parts of the reef.
“Whether any of these events can be attributed to climate change, we don’t yet know,” said Dr Hobbs, who also works with the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Excellence for Climate Extremes.
“But all of them are in keeping with predictions for anthropogenic climate change.”