The evidence is clear. In August, the world's scientists concluded once again that immediate action is needed. Climate change is uncomfortably close to all our daily realities no matter where in the world we live. Already it is triggering the kind of climate disasters we saw this summer, putting the survival of many species at risk and soon rendering certain parts of the Earth uninhabitable to humans.
As Lund University climate scientist Professor Kimberly Nicholas framed it: "It's warming. It's us. We're sure. It's bad. But we can fix it."
In Paris, five years ago, the international community finally agreed to embark upon an ambitious journey: to limit global warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees. While such levels of warming might seem manageable, the difference could be existential. For the human body, the difference between 40 and 42 degrees is the difference between life and death. Containing the temperature increase means limiting climate disruption and reducing the chance of natural disasters.
Yet the news is not all grim. Science also tells us that a zero-carbon society is possible - a society of new green jobs and growth that can limit warming to 1.5 degrees. The European Union has already shown that it is feasible to decouple growth from CO2 emissions (since 1990, our GDP has grown by over 60 per cent, while net greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by one-quarter). In July we released our legislative package to implement the European Green Deal, and deliver a 55 per cent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on the path to climate neutrality by 2050. This transition of how we generate and use energy, move around, build and heat houses and use the land is designed in the fairest way possible, ensuring no one is left behind. Otherwise, it wouldn't work.
But obviously, the EU cannot limit climate change alone, as we only emit 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions. We have to inspire others - even the most reluctant partners - to join the path to climate neutrality. When the EU committed to climate neutrality by 2050 two years ago, few believed Japan, the United States, South Korea and even China would follow. When we launched the EU Green Deal, few imagined the EU would borrow for a green recovery to finance the most ambitious climate neutrality plan in the world. We set up the first Green Alliance for climate neutrality, starting with Japan on May 27, and we pushed for the G7 to commit to climate neutrality in June. Now we are pushing the G20 to follow suit. We will never stop pushing for progress.
We invite all partners to strengthen their climate mitigation and adaptation plans. We are ready to offer technical and financial support, and are walking the walk with our own climate law, 2030 package and adaptation strategy. We are among the world's biggest providers of climate finance, releasing 22 billion euros ($US26 billion) in 2019, representing more than one-third of the total effort by developed countries.
And we are committed to scaling up this amount further in the years to come, as can be seen by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's recent announcement of an overall 4 billion euro climate finance top-up over the 2021-27 period.
But we also need others to do more to meet the commitment by developed countries to provide $US100 billion per year for climate action in developing countries. Mobilising more private finance will also be important in this regard.
The EU has fought hard to keep the Paris Agreement alive. After the negotiating, the time for climate action is here. The UNFCCC just released a disheartening report. Under current commitments, global temperature would rise by an unacceptable 2.7 degrees by 2100 - a gloomy outlook to say the least.
A lack of ambition means a climate tax will be levied by climate change itself. It will be a tax that is bad for everyone, paid for with destruction, without any upside for society. This is why we have proposed a flexible carbon border adjustment mechanism, to use only if partners are not ambitious enough on climate action. Putting a price on carbon is essential, one way or another. It is a proven way to the price signal that triggers change.
We want to lead by example and engage with partners, but we are prepared to take more action if necessary.
If we close the gaps in financing and ambition, if all countries commit to doing more, then we can still keep the climate crisis under control. Based on science, realists today know the cost of inaction is immeasurable.
It's a fantasy to believe we could afford not to act. We now need a systemic and exponential change away from fossil fuels. It is good for our health, our households, our crops, our water, our jobs and our economies. This will require the support of world leaders and pressure from citizens. Every action counts: how we vote, what we eat, how we travel. Just how damaging climate change will be is in our hands.
The EU strives to take a leading role in climate action, but we want to do more with Australia. Please feel free to challenge us and go even further than us. Climate action can take place anywhere, at any level. There is no time left for inaction - the time for practical solutions, from the most basic to the most innovative, is now.
- Dr Michael Pulch is the European Union's ambassador to Australia.