Australia must hit net zero by 2050 to meet Paris: scientists

Credit: Alex Ellinghausen Scott Morrison speaking in the House of Representatives
24 February 2020

Top scientists say for Australia to honour the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to less than two degrees, the country must reach net zero emissions before 2050.

Debate over the emissions target flared in Federal Parliament on Monday, as the Morrison government attacked Labor for a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which it announced last week.

Australia signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 and an increasing list of major fossil fuel companies and industry groups have backed the Paris targets and net zero goals.

The agreement does not set a deadline for signatories to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, other than stipulating it occurs before the end of the century.

However, article two of the agreement locks signatories into following the “best available science” on the required “rapid reduction” of emissions, and the “highest level of ambition”, to limit global warming to below two degrees  and as close to 1.5 degrees  as possible.

Macquarie University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Lesley Hughes said the science showed that under the current trajectory of warming, net zero global emissions before 2050 would be required to limit the temperature rise to below two degrees.

“Net zero is absolutely necessary, but the bigger question is how quickly we get there, and what are the interim targets? If we are emitting like we are now and then suddenly hit net zero in 2050, we would overshoot the target by two degrees,” Professor Hughes said.

“The emissions plan and trajectory of emissions reduction over the next decade will count more to global warming than what happens in 2040 to 2050.”

Read the full article in The Sydney Morning Herald, featuring commentary by Emeritus Prof Will Steffen