Australian politicians are facing calls to accept the era of new fossil fuel investments should end immediately after a major report on the climate crisis confirmed it was already causing havoc across the planet, with worse to come.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Tuesday the sixth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, confirmed the “serious implications for Australia of what’s happening globally”.
But he maintained that the “technological breakthroughs” to come would ensure the world transitioned successfully to a low emissions future. “What’s important is that we ensure that the technology breakthroughs that are necessary to transform the world over the next 10, 20 and 30 years are realised,” Morrison said.
The IPCC found human activities were equivocally heating the planet and causing changes not seen for centuries and in some cases thousands of years. They were already affecting weather and climate extremes in every region, including contributing to a rising number of heatwaves, heavier rainfall events and more intense droughts and tropical cyclones.
Climate campaigners said the report – which also said global surface temperatures would continue to increase until at least mid-century under all scenarios – should prompt the Coalition and Labor to immediately end support for new fossil fuel projects, including gas basins and coalmine expansions.
Kirsty Howey, co-director of Environment Centre Northern Territory, said the report showed the development of the territory’s vast Beetaloo basin and the offshore Barossa gas field, backed by bipartisan support, was a “kamikaze mission” and needed to be stopped.
Howey said gas fields leaked significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and there was enough gas in the Beetaloo sub-basin to increase Australia’s emissions by 20%. The IPCC reported atmospheric methane concentrations had increased 156% since 1750, compared with a 47% increase in carbon dioxide. The science body said “every tonne of CO₂ emissions adds to global warming”.
“It is negligent to suggest that gas is part of the solution to global warming,” Howey said. “With devastating fires, floods and storms across the globe, the [NT’s] Gunner government and Australia has a responsibility to stop these reckless and dangerous projects.”
Andy Paine, from the group Frontline Action on Coal, said the IPCC report was “a sad and frightening read”. “What’s more sad and frightening is that there is nothing new here,” he said. “All new fossil fuel projects must be stopped immediately, including Adani’s Carmichael mine.”
Gavan McFadzean, climate program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the projections in the IPCC report showed there was no more time for delay. It left the Morrison government’s support for a gas-led recovery, including hundreds of millions of dollars of public support for new infrastructure and to build a gas power plant in the Hunter Valley, with “no place to hide”, he said.
But the country’s influential oil and gas lobby group said new technology and gas were “part of the solution to reducing emissions”, a position that has been echoed by the Morrison government and some Labor MPs.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association issued a statement saying new gas had “only half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal when used to generate electricity”. “Natural gas has a critical role to play in reducing emissions in our energy system,” the group’s deputy chief executive, Damian Dwyer, said.
The government is facing pressure over a $50m grants program for companies to explore the Beetaloo basin, including $21m awarded to Empire Energy, a firm with some links to the Liberal party. The grants are the subject of a Senate inquiry and court action. Studies have suggested emissions from gas have often been underestimated due to methane leakage during extraction and transport.
Morrison has resisted calls to join the more than 100 countries that have adopted a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. He has suggested his government might have more to say on Australia’s 2030 target – currently a 26-28% cut compared with 2005 – before a major climate summit in Glasgow.
McFadzean said the report showed 2050 was “too late” for Australia to reach net zero emissions. He said it needed to cut them by more than two-thirds over the next decade and reach net zero by 2035 if it was to do its “fair share”.
David Ritter, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, accused the government of “sacrificing the future of our kids and our country” to protect “coal and gas corporations”. He said the science demanded targets of a 75% emissions cut this decade and net zero by 2035. “The Australian people and the world deserve better,” he said.
Morrison said on Tuesday that Australia “must take action” but could not ignore that developing countries now accounted for the majority of new emissions. He said the Australian approach was to enable them to act through technology. “I won’t be signing a blank cheque on behalf of Australians to targets without plans. We will set out a clear plan, as we have been working to do,” he said.
Extinction Rebellion protestors targeted Parliament House and the Lodge on Tuesday, with a small group arrested after spray painting “no time” and “duty of care” on the parliament forecourt.