Scott Morrison’s climate policy paralysis sets a dishonourable example for the world
Joel Fitzgibbon has fumed for years over Labor’s pursuit of stronger carbon abatement – anathema to the coal industry. So it was no surprise to see him quit the shadow cabinet last week.
No coal mine in Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter has a long-term future. And where coal is headed, oil and gas cannot be far behind. The International Energy Agency, the World Bank and virtually every climate scientist in the world say the sooner we stop extracting geologically stable carbon and burning it, the better. The coal industry has to be terminated. End of story.
Most MPs, federal and state, would baulk at that statement. Instead of developing alternative job opportunities for coal workers and staring down industry bullies, they continue to peddle the line that fossil fuels will remain essential to our economy for decades. It’s a line fed to them day after day, week after week by mining lobbyists who are well paid to ensure this happens.
So let me recommend to all those misguided politicians three current references showing why this is dangerous propaganda.
The first is the UNEP’s current Emissions Gap Report, released just before COVID-19, which found a growing gap between actual emissions and what the world’s governments have pledged to do to reverse the trend. It found that national commitments need to be at least three times stronger to keep warming below 2C and more than five times stronger to achieve the much safer 1.5C goal.
In its 2020 World Energy Outlook, released last month, the IEA said that unsubsidised growth of solar and wind energy would not be enough to put us on a sustainable emissions path. Without strong government support of renewables and curbs on fossil fuel use, it said, international climate goals would be pushed out of reach.
The IEA said that a target of net zero emissions by 2050 required “dramatic additional actions” to ensure that three-quarters of global energy comes from renewable sources by 2030 (currently at 19 per cent) and that electric car sales worldwide in 2030 make up 75 per cent of all car sales (currently 2.5 per cent). This is the level of ambition needed for a reasonable shot at a safe climate.
The third item on my MP reading list is the most important because it’s about us – Australia – compiled by our two leading climate science bodies, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. Late last week they released the 2020 edition of their two-yearly series, the “State of the Climate”.
SOTC 2020 reports a surge in extreme heat events last year. Days on which the national average maximum was 40C or above totalled just 24 from 1960 to 2018, mostly in more recent years. But last year alone, 33 days reached that unhappy milestone.
The report expects that by the time the global mean temperature reaches the 1.5C “safe” level of warming, the heat we experienced in 2019, our hottest year on record, will be seen as just average.
Southern Australia in recent decades has experienced markedly lower winter rainfall and stream flows, and longer and more dangerous fire seasons. The report sees this trend continuing in coming decades, with drier winters, more drought, more bad fire weather and more intense rain events.
So could the government be guided by its pandemic success? Could it accept scientific projections as to our future climate and allow its response to be determined by climate experts, who are calling for vastly stronger measures to cut fossil fuel emissions?
Not a bit of it. On Friday, Scott Morrison interpreted a finding of the royal commission into last summer’s bushfires, that climate impacts were “locked in” for decades, to mean that the government had to focus not on mitigating the impacts, but on dealing with their consequences.
Australia has held the pandemic in check because governments heeded scientific advice to focus on blocking the spread of the virus. The public health catastrophe now unfolding in the US underscores the perils of the alternative – just treating symptoms while hoping for an effective vaccine.
Yet the Morrison government is doing exactly that – tackling symptoms but not the drivers of the problem – in pursuing its non-policy on climate. Faced with science’s advice that urgent global action is needed to avoid massive and deadly consequences, it does nothing.
That inaction is founded on a lie. With fossil-fuel emissions steadily rising, the government uses accounting trickery to suggest that they’re not. If enough nations follow this dishonourable example, the world will be in an endless game of catch-up, in which everyone will be losers.