‘It’s business as usual’: Greenhouse gas emissions are back at pre-pandemic levels as researchers call for Australia to radically rethink its economy

‘It’s business as usual’: Greenhouse gas emissions are back at pre-pandemic levels as researchers call for Australia to radically rethink its economy
Kangaroo hopping near wind mill and water tank, at sunrise in South Australia, Australia.
  • Australia must participate in a radical rethink of the global economy to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, researchers say.
  • A return to pre-pandemic carbon dioxide emissions shows “it’s business as usual”, said University of Sydney senior lecturer Dr Thomas Newsome.
  • Newsome, a co-author of the new report, said the lack of a hard carbon price has “isolated us from the rest of the world”.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia must participate in a “structural transformation” of the global economy to reckon with the ravaging damage of carbon emissions and climate change, according to a new report.

Nearly two years after 11,000 scientists declared the planet is grinding through a climate emergency, a team of researchers, including representatives from the University of Sydney, say conditions have deteriorated further.

Assessing the same 31 benchmarks that declaration was based upon, experts today published an update in the scientific journal Bioscience.

In the past two years, divestments from fossil fuels, investment in solar and wind energy, and the quantity of carbon emissions captured by some form of pricing mechanism have all increased, the paper states.

But the results show the decline in greenhouse gas emissions through the pandemic was temporary, with carbon dioxide emissions already reverting to, and exceeding, pre-lockdown levels.

All told, those findings suggest a dip in consumption and behaviour won’t be enough to drag emissions down on a permanent basis, says Dr Thomas Newsome, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.

“It’s business as usual,” Newsome told Business Insider Australia. “Things are turning straight back up to where they were.”

Newsome, who co-authored the latest report, said there was an “urgent need for transformative change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, more broadly, human overexploitation of the planet.”

The group has highlighted three-short term goals to shape a climate-friendly economy: the introduction of a global carbon price, the permanent transition away from fossil fuels, and a suite of safeguards to protect biodiversity.

It is unlikely those priorities will be warmly embraced by Canberra.

The notion of carbon pricing has been politically noxious for a decade thanks to attacks on the Gillard Labor Government’s 2011 Clean Energy Act, which laid out a plan for a carbon cap-and-trade scheme. Elsewhere, the Morrison Coalition Government has championed natural gas as a key component of its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia’s pandemic recovery spending has also been identified as particularly poor, in terms of its climate-focused ambitions: in March, the nation ranked dead last out of the world’s top 50 economies in terms of how its pandemic support funding funds green initiatives.

Newsome said Australia’s leaders still have opportunities “to shift pandemic related monetary support measures into climate friendly activities.”

The absence of a mandated carbon pricing mechanism has “isolated us from the rest of the world, [and] the world is moving,” he added.

There is also evidence to suggest Australian industry is moving ahead of its policy-makers, with Australia’s private sector voluntarily seeking carbon offset credits, green investment options growing in popularity, and major lenders offering ‘green’ loans to customers.

“There are some economic barriers to the individuals who might not either have the financial resources, or can’t see the financial benefit of doing things like putting solar panels on the roof or purchasing an electric vehicle, for example,” Newsome said.

“So any support in that in that space, I think, is a good thing to encourage.

“But we really need a global shift, and a major shift from governments and policymakers.”

The paper precedes a major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is set to outline the latest global warming projections — and what may occur if a radical transition from greenhouse gas-emitting industries does not occur.