Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMGERG/GETTY IMAGES
Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMGERG/GETTY IMAGES

The year 2020 tested the strength of our communities and the resilience of our countries. It was a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but for Australians it started with the most devastating bushfires in our history. The messages and offers of support from our friends in Southern Africa in our hour of need were truly humbling.

The year demonstrated the importance of marshalling collective will, innovation, resources and leadership to protect and support our communities and countries. While reducing emissions will remain crucial, increased efforts will be required to adapt and build resilience to the climate change already occurring. Economic recovery from the pandemic and climate action will need to go hand in hand.

The recent virtual Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands provided a valuable opportunity for the international community to work together towards a more climate-resilient future. At the summit, Australia reaffirmed its commitment to ambitious and practical action to combat the effects of climate change at home, in our region, and around the world.

Australia and Southern Africa share many climate challenges. But our continents are also blessed with abundant sources of renewable energy as well as the metals and minerals vital to the transition to a low-carbon economy. I see opportunities for our respective countries to share expertise and knowledge in support of climate action and energy transition, including in the emerging clean hydrogen sector.

In Australia, we are working to make our natural resources, environment and water infrastructure more resilient to drought and climate disasters by supporting local communities to design their own economic, social and environmental recovery.

We are fortunate in this regard to be able to learn from the continuing connection of the First Australians, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, to their country. For more than 65,000 years their traditional knowledge and practices have preserved and protected Australia’s natural environment.

Almost one in four Australian homes now has solar — the highest uptake in the world — and we expect renewables will contribute at least 50% of our electricity by 2030

The ever-increasing number and severity of bushfires demonstrates the importance of bringing together indigenous fire management techniques and modern science as a conservation and greenhouse gas abatement tool. I am proud that Australia is supporting the reinvigoration of indigenous fire management practices to mitigate climate change and improve the protection of biodiversity and wildlife in Botswana through the International Savanna Fire Management Initiative.

Australia is also committed to supporting global climate finance to help neighbouring and global communities to tackle climate change through the  deployment of renewable energy, and improved climate change and disaster resilience. We’re also sharing our climate adaptation expertise, experiences and skills through our development programme.

Through Australia’s Covid-19 development response — Partnerships for Recovery — Australian scientific and agricultural innovation and expertise will continue to support Africa’s stability and recovery. The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (Aciar) is working with smallholder farmers to increase food security and tackle the effects of climate change. Digital Earth Africa is also harnessing Australian science and innovation to make earth observations accessible and to improve agricultural practices and water management.

Adaptation action must go hand in hand with reducing emissions. Australia is getting on with the job. We remain resolutely committed to the Paris Agreement and are on track to meet and beat our 2030 target, having reduced emissions by almost 17% since 2005. Our emissions have fallen faster than many other advanced economies or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.

Accelerating technologies

Australians are also building and investing in renewables at record levels. On a per person basis, Australia is building new wind and solar infrastructure at 10 times the global average. Almost one in four Australian homes now has solar — the highest uptake in the world — and we expect renewables will contribute at least 50% of our electricity by 2030.

The need to get to net zero emissions is not in dispute — the global community needs to focus on how. Australia is focused on accelerating technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture use and storage, soil carbon and energy storage to back up renewables and decarbonise transport, and low or zero emissions steel and aluminium.

Our goal is to get the cost of deploying these new technologies to parity with existing, higher-emitting alternatives. This is a practical pathway to achieve net zero emissions that also presents economic opportunity.

As the world recovers from the economic effect of Covid-19, we need investments that can accelerate emission reductions and support jobs and communities.

We need to embrace innovation and build international partnerships to enable collaboration and co-operation. We need to consider and respect indigenous culture and knowledge. Practical actions that help us adapt to changes in our climate over coming decades and strengthen the resilience of our local environments are critical. Together, we will make a difference.

• Kamath is Australia’s high commissioner to SA.

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