UN’s top climate adviser says Australia must phase out coal

6 September 2021

Australia must phase out coal by 2030 if it is to avoid catastrophic climate change and major disruption to the economy, according to the United Nation's top climate adviser.

Mr Selwin Hart, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action, will deliver an address at the 2021 Crawford Leadership Forum kicking off at The Australian National University (ANU) today.

The forum brings together political, business, public sector and academic leaders to address the major geopolitical and economic challenges facing the world.

"The world is way off track from meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement - a critical threshold for preventing the worst impacts of climate change," Mr Hart will tell the forum.

"A pre-requisite of keeping the 1.5C goal within reach is the urgent global phase-out of coal.

"Market forces alone show coal's days are numbered, as many investors increasingly abandon it in favour of renewables, which are now cheaper in most places. The growing expectation of stranded coal assets is hastening coal's decline.

"However, this shift is still not happening fast enough to avert a global climate catastrophe."

Mr Hart will note the role coal plays in the Australian economy, "even if mining only accounts for a small fraction - around two per cent - of overall jobs".

"But it's essential to have a broader, more honest and rational conversation about what is in Australia's interests, because the bottom line is clear," Mr Hart will say.

"If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy: from agriculture to tourism, and right across the services sector. Similarly, construction, housing and the property sector, in a country where the vast majority live on or near a coastline. It will be even more catastrophic in your neighbourhood."

In his address Mr Hart will make clear that the United Nations is not calling for a phase out of coal "overnight". According to the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, OECD countries like Australia should aim to phase out coal by 2030.

"If adopted, this timetable would leave nearly a decade for Australia to ensure a just transition for its coal workers and others affected," Mr Hart will say.

"More broadly, this shift from grey to green economies presents vast opportunities: to drive prosperity, productivity, more and better jobs, and inclusive economic growth.

"Globally, investments in renewables generate three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels.

"If countries - including Australia - choose bold climate action, a new wave of prosperity, jobs, fairness and sustained economic growth is there for the taking."

Mr Hart's address forms part of the 2021 ANU Crawford Leadership Forum taking place online Monday and Tuesday.

Video and audio of Mr Hart's address is available here.