Let’s be clear: this disaster could be seen a mile away

Scott Morrison’s refusal to face the truth is taking us into a dark place.

“Let’s be clear about this,” said science minister Karen Andrews last week about the Morrison government’s carbon emissions record, before going on to leave matters more opaque than ever.

When she had earlier called for a stop to “debates about climate change”, Andrews lifted hopes that Coalition opponents of an emissions policy might at long last be told to stay silent.

No such luck. At the end of Australia’s and the world’s hottest decade, culminating in our hottest and driest year and our worst fire season on record, the Coalition remains in complete lockdown over what to do about climate change. That is, it will continue to do nothing to reduce emissions.

If Andrews had really wanted to be clear, she’d have pointed out that Australia reached its 2020 emissions target only because it drew on credits from its ridiculously high Kyoto allocation, and that it will only reach its 2030 target by using more credits in defiance of the Paris Agreement.

This is basis of the claim by Scott Morrison and his ministers, repeated by Andrews, that they were “meeting and beating” targets when emissions were actually rising.

In 2020 the global emissions record is bleaker than ever. US data show the annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide rising from less than one part per million in the 1950s to 2.5 parts per million now. Most of that increase happened this century, especially since 2010.

Australia has had a key role in that failure. In Kyoto in 1997 we insisted on a clause allowing land carbon credits, dubbed “the Australia clause”. Little did anyone know how pernicious this escape clause would become, or how its blatant misuse would sully our country’s reputation.

This is what Australia has become, the go-to country for the cheats and the spoilers. We have shown the world how you can get away with increasing emissions while claiming you’re not.

As treasurer, Scott Morrison defunded an organisation tailor-made for present circumstances, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. That was after a similar initiative in CSIRO lost its funding. Both worked with local government and others on practical outcomes.

The PM now has the gall to claim he is fully behind measures to help us adapt to “a new normal”. But he hasn’t been paying attention. There is no normal any more, new or otherwise. A changing climate makes each year abnormal, and the abnormality is rising as each year passes.

It’s not as if we’ve had no warning. Research published early this century showed that of all developed countries Australia was most vulnerable to the impact of atmospheric warming, and that climate change created the conditions for more intense drought and fire events.

Those conclusions were summarised in economics professor Ross Garnaut’s comprehensive guide to Australian impacts, a 600-page review published by the Rudd government in 2008.

No-one familiar with Garnaut’s review could have been surprised at this summer’s fire devastation, nor the fire, drought and flood disasters in the decade leading up to it. He found that climate change would increase the risk of drought and flooding and affect seasonal and daily patterns of rainfall intensity, stream flows and water availability for human use.

A 2007 study cited by Garnaut said that global warming would cause fire seasons to lengthen and become more intense. The research paper said that this effect would increase over time, “but should be directly observable by 2020”. Indeed.

In an era highlighted by government obsession with boat arrivals, Garnaut warned that the impact of climate change on vulnerable developing countries in our region, with rising sea levels and more severe, more erratic weather, posed an unprecedented national security threat.

Incidentally, Garnaut also foresaw that global pressure to lower emissions would cause a flight of capital out of coal. Last week the PM, whose parliamentary antics with a lump of coal are now world famous, doubled down in defence of Australian coal exports after Black Rock, the world’s largest fund manager, announced it was divesting from thermal coal.

Notwithstanding advice from scientists, economists and ex-fire chiefs, the government has been blindsided by the drought and fire disaster. That, along with defunding adaptation research, manipulating emissions accounting, abolishing carbon pricing and rejecting a post-2020 renewable target, adds up to chronic, monumental governmental failure.

Scott Morrison has seen the undeniable evidence that Australia of all countries should be leading the world into a post-carbon age. Yet he remains aboard the fossil fuel train, charging full steam into a tunnel. And there’s no light at the other end.

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