Alix Pearce, Cities Power Partnership director, reports on an important gathering of international leaders in Brussels

This week leaders from government, business, the non-profit sector, media, academia and science gathered in Brussels for the EU-Australia Leadership Forum. I had the opportunity to represent the Climate Council as part of the Senior Leadership Forum.

The EU-Australia Leadership Forum

In the shadow of the final Brexit negotiations, leaders met in Belgium’s capital to discuss shared challenges and growing opportunities between the EU and Australia. This is the second meeting of the forum, which aims to strengthen collaboration, particularly as negotiations continue on the EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Many of Australia’s challenges are ones that our European Partners are also grappling with, from rising migration, to evolving security threats and of course, climate change. Worsening climate impacts, from bushfires and extreme heat to coastal flooding and drought are being felt acutely by Europeans and Australians.

Strengthening our international commitments

The forum was a reminder that the EU is tackling climate change head on with a legally binding emissions reduction target of 40% by 2030, below 1990 levels. Australia is yet to follow in Europe’s footsteps, putting forward an emissions reduction target of only 26-28% below 2005 levels, by 2030.

If the world copied Australia’s level of effort, we’d have little chance of staying below a 2°C rise in global temperature and limiting worsening climate impacts. There is, of course, still time for Australia to support our European alliesl. To have a good chance (75%) of staying below a 2C rise in global temperature Australia will need to put a revised emissions reduction target of 65% by 2030 on the table.

Brilliant people working on critical solutions

Putting international targets to one side, climate and energy experts from across Europe and Australia are working on critical research, establishing essential partnerships and rolling out exciting solutions to the climate challenge.

Some of the exciting programs forum participants are working on include improving battery storage technology,  the electrification of transport, building the resilience of small island states in the Asia Pacific and improving the capacity of business to take the lead on sustainability.

The breadth and depth of activity is an encouraging reminder that many brilliant people are working on this challenge together. Funding support from the European Union should also help to accelerate this action, with the EU’s Horizon 2020 program earmarking millions of euros to focus on supporting solutions to climate change, energy and mobility.

We need action from towns and cities more than ever

Action from towns and cities is a critical part of the climate solution. A central part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 plan includes a focus on “enabl[ing] cities to design and implement transition pathways to becoming inclusive, resilient, sustainable, low-carbon and resource efficient by enhancing their innovation capacity and enabling them to act as hubs of innovation”.

There are many interesting case studies and opportunities for knowledge sharing between Australian and European cities. Some of our Aussie cities already benefiting from these intercontinental linkages. As a result of this forum the Cities Power Partnership team hopes to showcase these European case studies in our 2019 webinar series and via our knowledge hub.

The EU-Australia Leadership forum is a sobering reminder of the urgency of many evolving challenges we face as nations. Alone, these challenges will almost certainly overcome us, but together we can not only tackle these problems, but benefit significantly from the solutions.

As forum participants leave Brussels today, I hope these conversations and connections will help to accelerate action across all issues, including climate change.

Cities Power Partnership  Climate Council

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