Australians should rally behind bid to host COP31

Aerial view of wind farm in a rural area in Australia. ©Greg Brave — stock.adobe.com

All Australians should get behind our proposal to host the COP31 climate talks in 2026.

In announcing our bid, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen did not just fulfil an election promise. He presented the nation with an opportunity to be seized with both hands.

Now the race is on. As COP27 gets underway in Egypt, our officials will push the case that it should be Australia’s turn in four years’ time.

After all, Australia has never hosted a COP or any major UN conference.

Winning the bid for COP31 won’t be easy, but if we’re successful it will help catalyse climate action in Australia and around the world, reviving our global reputation.

This is an Olympic moment — a huge opportunity to host a nation-building global conference.

This is the kind of leadership we need to show to be competitive in a net zero world.

Some 35,000 people are expected at COP27 in Egypt this month. Australia can expect at least this many in 2026.

While the COP will be largely held in one city, it will benefit the whole nation and our Pacific neighbours.

It will bring investment to our shores and showcase our renewable energy capabilities and technological expertise. It will shine a spotlight on Tasmania’s globally significant renewable energy target, Queensland’s investment in renewable hydrogen production, and South Australia’s leadership in grid management and energy storage.

It will also see major world leaders landing on our shores and provide an opportunity for multiple pre-COP meetings to be held in a number of Australian and Pacific cities.

But to build a COP31 that will really make a difference, the work starts now.

We need the whole country to be part of bringing COP to Australia. We need 26 million people — the likely population of Australia in 2026 — to get behind a nation-building bid. This must include federal and state governments, the business community, and civil society.

Australia will also need to lead by example and build a climate action suite that is the envy of the world. That hard work starts this week at COP27.

COP31 must be different. It must put Indigenous voices front and centre in the agenda. Engagement with Pacific countries and First Nations groups will be critical to creating a COP that centres around justice and supports those most vulnerable to climate change.

If the Australian Government is serious about hosting a COP with the Pacific, it must also reconsider its position on allowing new coal and gas developments.

We need to exit from fossil fuels on a set timeline and deliver on climate finance to support our Pacific neighbours, who have contributed the least to the climate emergency yet are experiencing the brunt of its impacts. The Blue Pacific states must be an equal partner in our bid for COP31.

Wealthy countries, including Australia, still haven’t met their $100 billion pledge to help developing countries face climate change, and the risks are rising.

If we look at the rapid progress we’ve made in renewable energy over the past three years, I’m confident that by 2026, the world will increasingly look to Australia as a leader.

If we’re successful in hosting COP31, we will be well on our way to achieving what the Prime Minister called for in his speech on election night — for Australia to become a renewable energy export superpower.

What’s more, an even bigger prize will be up for grabs. Because if the fifth largest polluter in the world (according to Scope 3 emissions) can achieve this transformation at speed and scale, then staying below 1.5C might still be within humanity’s grasp.

Written by Dermot O’Gorman, CEO, WWF-Australia

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