Germany’s top climate envoy says ‘this is the critical decade’ after Dutton ditches 2030 target

Germany’s climate envoy has dismissed claims the Paris agreement is only about reaching net zero emissions by 2050, warning that deep cuts by 2030 are “essential” and scientific evidence shows “this is the critical decade” to act on global heating.

Australia’s opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has refused to commit to a 2030 emissions reduction target prior to the next national election, prompting claims from Labor, the Greens and independents that the Coalition isn’t serious about acting on the climate crisis.

Dutton raised the prospect of watering down the target – a 43% cut compared with 2005 levels – that Australia has already enshrined in law and committed to under the Paris agreement.

“Well, the Paris agreement is predominantly about net zero by 2050, and that’s what we’ve signed up to,” Dutton told 2GB radio on Tuesday, adding there was no need to cut emissions in a “linear way”.

But the German government’s special envoy for climate action, Jennifer Morgan, stressed the need for all countries to have strong 2030 targets as part of international attempts to hold global heating to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is an important player in international climate negotiations and is working with Australia on a clean energy transition and the development of green hydrogen. Germany hosted talks in Bonn this week as part of international preparations for the Cop29 summit in November in Baku in Azerbaijan.

While being careful to avoid wading directly into the Australian political debate, Morgan told Guardian Australia that “science-based 2030 targets are essential” to keep the 1.5C limit “intact”.

“Therefore all countries agreed already in 2021 to strengthen their targets within their national climate plans for 2030,” Morgan said.

“This is the critical decade.”

The comments add to Morgan’s previous remarks, made during a visit to the Pacific late last year, that “all countries have to scale up their ambition for 2030” because the 1.5C goal is “a matter of life and death for many people here in this region”.

Morgan, a former Greenpeace co-executive director, has been involved in international climate negotiations for many years. Since 2022, she has served as a state secretary at Germany’s Foreign Office with responsibility for climate action.

The Paris agreement was adopted by more than 190 countries, including Australia’s then Coalition government, in 2015.

The agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above preindustrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above preindustrial levels”.

Countries including Australia agreed that such action “would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

Experts say a critical part of the Paris agreement is the promise that countries don’t “backslide” on their level of climate action and that they act rapidly “in accordance with best available science”.

Article 4.3 of the agreement says each commitment a country makes will be a progression – an improvement – on its previous commitment and will “reflect its highest possible ambition”.

Later, the 2015 agreement said a country “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition”.

Morgan’s comments also referenced commitments made in 2021 at the UK-hosted Cop26 summit.

Parties to the Paris agreement – including Australia’s then Coalition government – requested countries “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets. They recognised the need for “accelerated action in this critical decade” on the path to the mid-century net zero goal.

Dutton has promised to pursue nuclear energy in Australia, something that is prohibited by law and which experts say would be unlikely to come online before the 2040s – a point he reportedly conceded in an interview with News Corp last Saturday. He has argued Labor’s existing 2030 target is “unachievable”.

Experts have said the country needs to accelerate the rollout of renewable energy to reach the target, but that it could be reached.

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