By Linda Bordoni
Unprecedented weather conditions driven by climate change continue to impact countries and communities highlighting the need for a new approach to natural resource management and conservation.
As the driest continent on the globe, Australia has been severely impacted by devastating bushfires that have wreaked death, destruction and economic loss.
But as Chiara Porro, the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See explained in an interview with Vatican Radio, Australia is also determined to take the lead in implementing new green technology infrastructure and techniques while making good use of the knowledge and techniques developed by its indigenous peoples in the course of centuries.
What’s more, Ms Porro explained, the Australian government is “on track to beat its 2030 Climate Change Goals” by reducing greenhouse gas emissions while investing hugely in renewable energy.
A year ago Australia was just coming to terms with the devastating effects of the worst bushfires, we’ve ever had in our history. Lives were lost, buildings were damaged, communities were severely affected and our wildlife was really badly damaged. As the driest continent in the world, Australia has always had to deal with extreme weather events and our indigenous population has, over the thousands of years, developed techniques to manage natural resources. However, the intensity and the frequency of what are experiencing at the moment is such that we have never seen before. I think climate change is the single greatest threat to our region at the moment. It’s clear that we need to invest in practical urgent action right now.
Observers have been quite critical regarding some of the decisions taken by the government. They say that your prime minister is walking a bit of a delicate tightrope between trying to achieve the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement and the nation’s powerful coal industry.
Regarding the question of emissions, I think that reducing emissions is of course important for the longer term. But also what is really needed now, is a strong focus and investment in adaptation.
Keeping with the question of emissions, Australia is on track to beat our 2030 target. We’ve reduced emissions by almost 17% since 2005 which is faster than many other advanced economies.
We are also investing hugely in renewable technology and renewable energy and we’re building capacity in wind and solar energy that is 10 times the global average. This means that we have the highest uptake in the world: one in four Australian homes now have solar power.
And regarding renewable energy, it will contribute to at least 50% of our electricity by 2030. That is to say, we realise the economy needs to change and this change is happening. We are also investing very heavily in hydrogen and in other renewable technologies that could potentially one day be exported to Southeast Asia, replacing more polluting energy exports.
Australia will participate in the next COP 26 due to take place in Glasgow in November. What do you think it will bring to the table?
That’s still being debated. But I think you know we’re working very closely with the UK as the Cop26 President, and we’ve already made several announcements and commitments, including adaptation. We have also increased our climate financing already by 50% to 1.5 billion dollars at least over the next period, and we are taking leadership on climate change in our region in the Pacific.
We’ve been working on disaster relief for two decades, and we have a number of initiatives, such as our infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific, which is 2 billion dollars focused on building climate-resilient infrastructure projects.
We are also supporting meteorological services in the Pacific for data gathering and early warning systems. There is a whole range of measures in place to ensure that we know what’s happening and what’s going on.
Meanwhile, the need to get to net-zero emissions for us is not in dispute and we are very committed to that; but we are trying to push the global community to focus on how important that is for us given the urgent need for our region to adapt and become more climate-resilient.
As Australian ambassador to the Holy See do you manage to get a voice in with your government regarding the Vatican’s stance on climate change?
I do. I think Pope Francis has been very forward-leaning and vocal and I think his recent participation at the virtual Climate Summit in December 2020 really demonstrated how even such a small state like the Vatican can lead, also by committing to promote education on integral ecology. I think that’s critical and fundamental and will have a real impact all around the world, given the Catholic education system that’s present in countries like Australia. I think it really will have an impact on pushing more of that “bottom-up” demand for a more climate-neutral economy and other policies.
How influent is Catholic education in your part of the world?
A recent census shows that one in five children in Australia are educated in a Catholic institution at some point during their schooling, so it’s very prevalent. This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia, and it is very well regarded and has a key role in educating our youth. It extends from childcare up to higher education, and witnesses how powerful Catholic social teaching can be in terms of its outreach to youth.