Good news out of Canberra: the national Climate Change Authority is recruiting, looking for directors and data analysts. Applications closed last Friday, but don’t let that stop you if you think you have what they want.
The CCA was set up by the Gillard government under former Reserve Bank chief Bernie Fraser to provide government with expert advice on the transition to a renewable economy. An incoming Abbott government tried but failed to get the Senate numbers to axe it.
Since then it has stumbled along on minimal resources, in the process seeing off Fraser and other original members including chief scientist Ian Chubb, ethicist and author Clive Hamilton, business executive Heather Ridout, and economist John Quiggin.
Fraser and colleagues didn’t go without a fight. Ahead of the 2015 Paris climate summit they recommended a 2030 emissions reduction target between 45 and 65 per cent below a 2005 baseline. That was a bridge too far for the Coalition. A defunded CCA has been silent ever since.
We can only hope that the Climate Change Authority’s near-death experience is a lesson learned. Politicians are rarely expert in anything but politics – certainly not in the complexities of turning climate science imperatives into viable national targets. They really need help, which is why it’s good to see the CCA resurrected.
But not with its present board, headed by Grant King, a former oil and gas executive, and including Susie Smith, head of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, a group sponsored by fossil fuel interests. Climate change minister Chris Bowen will have some explaining to do if he retains their services.
Here’s the rub. Carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise, now topping 420 parts per million at Mauna Loa on Hawaii. After two La Nina years this year should be cool, yet the planet is within 0.2C of the record set in 2016. We are now in a place we definitely would not have wanted back when the CCA was set up.
Old paradigms have to go. Continuing current oil, gas and coal extraction is undesirable. Opening up new fields is insane. Yet this is in prospect if the government, through environment minister Tanya Plibersek, waves through several significant gas and coal developments now in prospect.
It’s hard for all ministers in the Albanese government, settling into their new top jobs. When parliament is sitting Canberra crawls with fossil fuel lobbyists, in their ear daily, seeking to remind them of their “obligations” to ensure this or that project progresses, with promises of jobs and votes.
They all have their jobs to do, but some jobs are more important than others. Plibersek and energy and climate change minister, Chris Bowen, are being challenged to choose between helping to cut global emissions and meeting the needs of fossil fuel investors.
Judging by what prime minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC last week, the investors appear to be winning. He ruled out a moratorium on new projects, saying that would have a “devastating” impact on the economy and do nothing for global emissions because low-emitting Australian coal would only be replaced by high-emitting coal from elsewhere.
It speaks volumes about the abysmal state of our climate response that this new leader won’t rule out new fossil carbon projects. As the International Energy Agency says, extracting carbon from the ground has no useful role in any country’s future. The most urgent task of this revived CCA is determining how quickly these industries can be brought to a full stop.
It’s troubling that nearly a decade after the CCA proposed a 2030 target of a 45 to 65 per cent cut, the best a brand new, progressive Australian government can offer is 43 per cent. A floor it may be, as Bowen says, but it’s still way too low. And it’s too far away – the Climate Change Bill introduced last week has no provision for at least one earlier, interim target. A decade of fierce opposition to climate policy has clearly led Labor to lower its ambitions.
It’s also worth noting that no Labor politician has questioned the oft-repeated Coalition claim to have cut emissions by 20 per cent. This was based on carbon sequestration from a government-funded scheme which in March this year was described by a top administrator turned whistleblower as a “rort”. Does Labor intend to continue this deception?
Over many years, self-serving political point-scoring led to climate policy disaster. The new government and parliament must jettison destructive last-century mindsets. To help it do that, a revived, well supported, independent Climate Change Authority can’t come soon enough.