'KitKats embarrassed Australia'
It's an odd day when a chocolate bar embarrasses an entire nation, but the humble KitKat did just that last Wednesday.
It's the four fingered chocolate enrobed wafer snack that is leaving Australia as red faced as its scarlet packaging.
How can this be, you might ask? How can KitKats have more credibility than Australia? It comes down to what the owners of KitKat are doing - and what the government of Australia is not.
Last week, global food giant Nestle announced that its KitKat brand would be carbon neutral by 2025.
"KitKat aims to reduce the emissions generated through the sourcing of its ingredients, the manufacturing of the product and its distribution by more than 50 per cent as part of the plan," the Swiss firm said.
Most of the emissions created in chocolate bar production come from sourcing milk and the growing and processing of cocoa.
Climate scientists have said that reducing emissions to net zero is crucial if the world is to meet the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warning to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. Already the world is 1C warmer and if we keeping going the way we are we could actually get to 3C before the end of the century.
Date the Australian Government won't commit to
Aside from its KitKat pledge, Nestle also has a wider aim of net zero emissions by 2050.
That date has not been plucked from thin air. More than one hundred nations - from the UK to US, Japan to Germany - have targets of being greenhouse gas neutral by 2050.
But Australia is not one of them. Our country remains one of the dwindling number of first world economies yet to put any sort of date on net zero.
And make no mistake, the world has noticed.
Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was pointedly not invited to a UN climate summit that 70 other world leaders attended. Globally we've been seen as doing too little, too late.
Last week, US President Joe Biden held another climate summit which, to Canberra's relief, the PM was allowed to dial into.
At the summit, Mr Biden set a new target for the US to slash emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
In a moment songstress Alanis Morissette might deem "ironic," when it came to the PM's time to speak someone left the zoom call on mute. The unkind might say that was because Australia had very little to say.
Mr Morrison would beg to differ.
"We are well on the way to meeting and beating our Paris commitments," he told the summit.
"Already we have reduced our emissions by 19 per cent on 2005 levels, more than most other similar economies, and by 36 per cent when you exclude exports."
Australia being left behind
What the PM didn't say was that while Australia has reduced emissions, those reductions have essentially plateaued. It's unclear how Australia is going to meet emissions targets - not that we have many to meet.
Australia's chief aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Mr Morrison has said a goal is to achieve net zero emissions "preferably by 2050".
But it's all looking a bit weak faced with a growing number of countries firming up and tightening those targets.
By world standards, Australia is a relative minnow when it comes to emissions. We belch about 1 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, far below China or the US.
But when it comes to per capita emissions we're one of the dirtiest, with the world's third highest emissions by that metric.
We get it, it's difficult for Australia. More than half our electricity derives from coal - a huge carbon emitter. Transport and agriculture also leech greenhouse gases. Communities whose economies depend on fossil fuels are right to worry about how they will survive.
But our lack of a zero date means China - the world's biggest polluter - can get away with a net zero target of 2060, not 2050. At least Beijing has a date.
KitKats raise another climate problem
Clearly, a chocolate sack is not a nation. Cutting emissions on sugary snacks is easier than cutting emissions from a whole country. And if Nestle fails in its goal, it'll get less flack than a government.
But KitKat's move raises another issue. The Australian government is being left behind not just by our peer nations, but by big business too.
Companies have smelled the wind and have decided they need to get on board. Nestle sells KitKats not just in Townsville, but Tokyo, Turin and Taunton too. They have to show lots of governments that they're making an effort.
It's not just foreign firms. In the past year, Australia's three biggest retailers - Woolworths, Coles and Wesfarmers - have all committed to reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. Heck, even huge miner BHP has a 2050 goal.
The incentive would be greater for other firms if the government set a date too.
Economic problem if Australia flubs climate goal
Anna Malos, from non-profit organisation ClimateWorks told news.com.au the dilly-dallying on the issue could eventually harm our economy. Australia has the ability to be a major world force in cleaner hydrogen and other minerals that could power a green economy, she said.
Some climate watchers have said net zero countries may even tax imports from nations that fail to reach that benchmark.
"Other countries are already stepping up and if Australia doesn't as well, we will lose some of our competitive advantage and those things that make our economy strong," said Ms Malos.
"Everyone knows we're in transition. The question is what are we going to do now to get on the front foot?"
The government has a critical seven months ahead of it. In November, the UK will hold the COP26 Glasgow climate, the biggest such event since the 2015 Paris meeting.
The pressure on the PM is huge - both from those urging Australia to set a deadline by Glasgow; and those in the Coalition who don't want a bar of it.
But it's time to take stock, to have a break - maybe with a KitKat - and ponder how a chocolate bar now has more credibility on the world stage when it comes to climate than Australia.
Originally published as How KitKats have 'embarrassed' Australia