ANU: ANU experts on COP26

The United Nations’ climate change summit, COP26, has kicked off.

Our experts provide thier insights on the latest round of negotiations, why they matter, Australia’s role in global action to address climate change, our long-term plan to reach net zero and whether we are doing enough.

If you’re a journalist and want to connect with our experts on these issues, contact ANU Media on +61 2 6125 7979 or [email protected]


Professor Mark Howden
Director, ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

“In spite of prior emission-reduction commitments and the COVID shutdowns, global greenhouse gas emissions have not dropped and atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gases have continued to rise.

“The pressure needs to be on all governments to not only ratchet up emission-reduction commitments but also to demonstrate robust plans to deliver on these commitments.

“Finalisation of the enhanced transparency framework is an important step towards this, as well as enhancing the transparency, accountability and integrity elements of any global carbon marketing system.

“Add the increasing urgency of effective climate adaptation responses and the growing need for adequate climate finance and this COP will have its work cut out to deliver.”

Professor Frank Jotzo
Head of Energy
ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

“We need a proper long-term emissions strategy.

“We need a comprehensive analysis of how we can get to net zero under different scenarios for technological change and economic developments, what kind of investments are needed and how to mobilize them, and ways to deal with the social and regional impacts of the transition.

“The overriding question must be how to position Australia for success in a low-carbon world economy.”

Associate Professor Christian Downie
School of Regulation and Global Governance
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

“A commitment to net zero emissions is a ticket to entry to the international climate negotiations. Yet committing to 2050 targets without immediate actions to get there is simply another form of delay.

“We can’t rely only on future plans or future technologies. We have to act now. Every year we delay means hotter summers, longer droughts and more bushfires.”

Dr Virginia Marshall
ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance

“Climate change will have major impacts on biodiversity, water security and fire regimes across Australia’s vast expanse of Indigenous estate.”

Dr Siobhan McDonnell
Crawford School of Public Policy
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

“There’s an urgency around Pacific Island countries; this is not just an issue of adaptation. There are issues of material and non-material loss and damage caused by the impact of climate change that are tangible and real.”

Dr Ian Dry
ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society

“At the last COP in Madrid, we got very close to a final decision that would implement the carbon market, but Brazil blocked an outcome. Since then, we have been having many online informal negotiating sessions to resolve some of the outstanding issues.”

Dr George Carter
Department of Pacific Affairs
ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs

“Pacific Small Island Developing States and like-minded, multi-actor coalitions are at the forefront of making sure the current negotiations for the Paris Agreement uphold environmental integrity.

“All these parties have high ambition on mitigation, finance, adaptation, loss, damage and oceans.”


Dr Emma Aisbett
Fellow, ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance
Associate Director, Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific Grand Challenge

“With abundant sun, wind and land, Australia has a natural advantages needed to thrive in a net zero global economy. Committing to net zero emissions will help align policy with our natural advantages, and open doors for Australia to take part in designing the rules that will govern the growing global trade in green goods and services.”

Associate Professor Paul Burke
Crawford School of Public Policy
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

“The key thing at COP26 is to see strong forward momentum in international moves to reduce emissions and embrace low-carbon technologies and practices. Australia could make a strong contribution if it wished to, including ideally by setting ambitious interim emissions commitments on the road to net zero.”

Professor Warwick McKibbin
Distinguished Professor of Economics and Public Policy
Director Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

“The significant structural adjustment needed in the Australian economy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to cope with reduced global demand for fossil fuel exports will require a portfolio of well-designed policies.

“While technology is a crucial ingredient, more widespread behavioural change requires cleverly designed market incentives to reduce carbon emissions wherever possible at the lowest cost and to encourage innovation. The behavioural change will need to be economy-wide and not just in energy generation. Australia’s comparative advantage in a zero-carbon world will be changing rapidly.

“The new policies should enable emerging industries to flourish in Australia and global markets while supporting those sectors and communities most affected during the low carbon transition. Most importantly, the climate framework should be bi-partisan since switching policies is bad for the long-term private investment that a major carbon transition will require.”


Professor Meg Keen
Director, Australia Pacific Security College

“Australia’s nearest neighbours are on the frontline of climate change impacts and will be pushing hard at the COP26 for ambitious commitments from all nations to deliver on the Paris commitment to aim for no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise to avoid catastrophic climate change.

At every recent meeting of the Pacific Island Forum leaders have pushed for stronger climate action; they want Australia to put Pacific lives before our economic interests.

The most recent IPCC report has made clear that we need to take action in the next 10 years to meet climate targets; all countries, Australia included, need an action plan and clear commitments. Aid dollars don’t replace climate action at home.

“Although Pacific island representation at COP26 is reduced with COVID, their voice will still be strong. It’s time for the world to step up.”


Dr Fiona Beck
Senior Lecturer, ANU School of Engineering

“The transition to a renewable energy-based economy is already happening, and needs to accelerate. Net zero targets are not sufficient in themselves to drive this, but are important in signalling to domestic stakeholders and our international trading partners that Australia is committed to the transition. If it chooses to grasp this opportunity, Australia has the land, renewable resources, and expertise to be a world leader in renewable energy and supporting technologies like green hydrogen.”

Professor Lachlan Blackhall
Entrepreneurial Fellow and Head
ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program

“Energy consumers have a vital role to play in meeting our 2050 targets through their uptake of renewable and distributed energy generation and storage including solar PV, residential and neighbourhood battery storage and electric vehicles. Through supporting uptake of these technologies, we will be able to ensure a decarbonised and resilient energy future for all.”

Professor Andrew Blakers
School of Engineering
ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science

“Net zero in 2050 is nice but not nearly enough. A 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 is easy and cheap. It requires off-the-shelf solar, wind, electric vehicles and electric heaters. It would see Australia become a valued and relevant party to the negotiations at Glasgow, rather than a resented freeloader. We don’t need distractions like new taxes, nor hydrogen, nor carbon capture and storage, nor a ‘gas-led recovery’.”

Professor Kylie Catchpole
Research School of Engineering
ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science

“The most important part of reaching net zero will be transforming the way we produce energy. In particular, to reach our commitments, the electricity sector needs to be transformed much sooner than 2050.”

Dr Mousami Prasad
Research Fellow, Energy Transition Hub
Grand Challenge for Zero Carbon Energy
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

“Australia’s relationship with fossil fuels is very interesting. It relies on the export of coal and gas and the import of oil. On the other hand, it is also leading the world in the deployment of solar and wind per person.

“COP26 comes in the backdrop of Australia’s ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan, reduction in 2020 emissions, most of which came from the transport sector, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, and a recently announced net zero target by 2050.

“To my mind, the game is now: how will the Australian Government balance its commitments with actions, and more importantly in the near term – five years and 10 years? The sectors to watch for include coal, gas, agriculture and transport.”

Associate Professor John Pye
ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science

“The long-term net zero plan brings Australia up to speed with our major trading partners in Europe, China, USA, Japan, Korea and UK who have already all made similar commitments in the last two years, and are certainly no less dependent than us on fossil fuels for their national economies.

“A huge part of Australia’s economy is the supply of ores and fuels for heavy industry, not least for the high-emitting iron and steel industry. With this new target, Australia can aim to take on a leading role in the global transition from blast furnaces to green steel made using hydrogen and electricity.

“It will now be critical for Australia to re-evaluate the subsidies and support for all energy and fossil-fuel related projects from today and into the future, to ensure that projects are aligned with the long-term goal, and we don’t waste our limited public funds.

“Technologies that support dispatchable renewable energy, including thermal energy storage and concentrating solar power — in which Australia possesses world-class expertise — should certainly be reconsidered in this new reality.”

Dr Lee White
ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance

“Australia has vast potential to transition to a low-emissions economy supporting low-emissions export markets with clean energy, but this potential remains unrealised.

“Stronger commitments are needed for emissions reduction to provide certainty to international and local actors, including not only targets but means to support industries and communities to transition to cleaner energy.”


Dr Roslyn Prinsley
Head of Disaster
ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

“Already we are seeing natural disasters increasing both in frequency and intensity. Over the past 50 years the number of weather-related disasters, including storms, floods and heatwaves, has increased by a factor of five, driven by climate change.

“It is imperative that we have a 2030 target that helps the world to reduce carbon emissions, so that we can curtail the impacts of climate change. Just as important, we need national and international solutions to ensure we prevent as many of these disasters as we can; and where we can’t, that we are as resilient as possible.”


Dr Robyn Alders AO
Honorary Professor, Development Policy Centre
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

“Food and nutrition security depends on both a healthy environment and a healthy climate. Taking both of these issues into account is vital for the future of Australia’s farming sector and the health of our community.”

Dr Matt Colloff
Honorary Senior Lecturer
ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society

“Regardless of any attempts at mitigation and commitments to emissions targets by 2030, adaptation to climate change is happening now worldwide. Australia is lagging. We have no national plan. It is being left to communities, local governments and some state governments to adapt, with the Federal Government seemingly unable to think beyond narrow political and economic considerations. A fundamental principle of adaptation is that institutions that were developed during periods of relative stasis are maladaptive during periods of rapid change.”

Professor Jamie Pittock
Fenner School of Environment and Society
ANU College of Science

“The impacts of climate change are often experienced most through water. Australia is already experiencing extreme events enhanced by climate change in the form of exacerbated fires, droughts and floods. In December 2020 the Murray-Darling Basin Authority reported that average river inflows in the past 20 years were 39 per cent below the long term average. The 2012-2026 Basin Plan includes no direct allowance for water losses due to climate change.

“The Glasgow Conference is crucial to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to limit global warming, and with that, to limit the loss of water in southern Australia. The Conference is also important for reinforcing standards, good practices and financing measures to adapt to ‘locked in’ climate change. In the case of the Murray-Darling Basin, the Conference should be a catalyst to revise the Water Act and Basin Plan to start adapting to a future with much less water.”


Professor Sharon Friel
Director, Menzies Centre for Health Governance
ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance

“The Federal Government is a laggard on climate change and is being dragged kicking and screaming to the global and national policy table by the actions of many others. To reduce health inequities requires action focused on reducing social inequities and mitigating climate change.

“Fundamentally, COP26 must implement actions to transform the consumptogenic system – the complex interplay of social institutions, public policies, business practices, social norms and values and power relations that embed, facilitate, and normalise the dominance of a system addicted to growth and profits irrespective of the environmental, social and health costs.

“If such action is not taken, health inequities in Australia and globally will be exacerbated and widen.”

Dr Arnagretta Hunter
Cardiologist and Physician, ANU Medical School
Human Futures Fellow ANU College Health and Medicine

“We need to rapidly transform and decarbonise our economic system rather than make promises decades away. Energy transition is a great starting point but climate change requires a whole of system approach to address mitigation and adaptation for the years ahead. This is a crucial time; we must look toward our future and act now.”

Dr Aparna Lal
Senior Lecturer
Research School of Population Health
ANU College of Health and Medicine

“COP26 offers another opportunity for Australia to recognise that implementation of solutions for health will need a change in the system as a whole. The way we use our land and our water impact our health. Better management of our natural systems and resources provide an opportunity for wins for health, and the way we tackle climate change.”

Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis
Professor of Global Environmental Health
Research School of Population Health
ANU College of Health and Medicine

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our health, the environment and the economy in this century. Decisive global action, based on solid science, has averted the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can achieve the same with climate change if we follow the scientific evidence and rapidly decarbonise our economy and society. This will bring many tangible health benefits, such as cleaner air in our cities, healthier diets and better housing conditions, and create employment opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

“Australia can become a global leader in climate action, avert disastrous bushfires and heatwaves, and create healthier environments and lives for all.”


Professor John Blaxland
Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies
Strategic and Defence Studies Centre
ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs

“As COP26 approaches, debates about climate change and policy solutions to environmental flux and shifts in energy demands are generating tensions not just in domestic politics but internationally.

“Sun-drenched, uranium-exporting Australia, is a major exporter of coal and gas. Despite its abundance, it is struggling to come up with a viable and environmentally-sustainable energy plan for the future.

“Challenges in reconciling environmental impulses with economic self-interest are compounded by rapid technological change which contributes to fluctuating demands in energy use. At stake is not just Australia’s international reputation, but the nation’s ability to best prepare for future environmental challenges affecting Australia and its neighbours, notably in the Pacific.

“Adding to the complex environmental challenges is a spectrum of governance problems, including transnational crime, smuggling, terrorism, and a breakdown in law and order, exacerbated by climate related extremes. Throw great power contestation in the mix and the solutions become more difficult to discern, let alone implement.

“Still, visionary, technologically-innovative, and environmentally-sensitive solutions are emerging and need to be accelerated for the sake of the next generation. Leadership is called for and action is needed now.”


Dr Bec Colvin
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

“The negotiations provide the Australian Government with an opportunity to increase the ambition of Australia’s climate commitments. Ratcheting up the ambition would help to bring Australia’s official position in line with the desires of the large majority of Australians who want to see genuine action on climate change.

“The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 is a step in the right direction, but the rhetoric needs to be backed by policy substance and clear pathways for short-term emissions reductions.”