Australia's leaders are lagging behind on climate
by Ebony Bennett
[Originally Published in the Canberra Times, 14 November 2020]
Australia is experiencing climate change now and warming is set to continue, according to the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO's 2020 State of the Climate report released yesterday.
This news won't come as a galloping shock to most Australians - we can see the evidence of global warming all around us - and, unsurprisingly, community attitudes reflect the science.
The Australia Institute's Climate of the Nation report, the longest running survey of community attitudes to climate change, shows that 80 per cent of Australians think we are already experiencing the impact of climate change, and that it is likely to cause more bushfires (76 per cent), more heatwaves and extremely hot days (78 per cent), and more extreme weather events like cyclones and floods, affecting crop production and food supply (both 75 per cent).
The State of the Climate report shows that the Black Summer bushfires, and the increasingly frequent and intense fire events we've seen since the Canberra bushfires in 2003, are "the sort of events we should treat as becoming more and more likely as warming continues".
Let's be clear: on Australia's current policy settings, the warming will continue. We are the world's third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, only behind Russia and Saudi Arabia, and we have no plans to change that.
The federal and state governments have used science so effectively to control the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, but when it comes to climate policy the Morrison government seems happy to ignore the science, and the economics, of backing a methane-led recovery that will increase emissions and energy prices.
While the government continues to be a laggard on climate, state and territory governments have done better, with the ACT Labor-Greens government the clear leader. ACT Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury articulated the problem neatly: "Climate change isn't going away, and it also presents serious ongoing threats to our health, to the economy, to the environment, and to future generations. If we escape COVID but don't deal with climate change, we are, almost literally, stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
The ACT's innovative reverse auction scheme for renewable energy not only built renewable energy at record low prices, but also shielded ACT households from future spikes in wholesale electricity prices. Here in Canberra, electric vehicles are stamp duty exempt and receive a 20 per cent reduction in registration fees, and we have already achieved 100 per cent renewables. The government that operates in the Canberra bubble on the hill could learn a lot from the ACT Legislative Assembly just down the road.
Some of our big trading partners like the European Union are also seriously beginning to consider imposing carbon tariffs on goods and services from countries like Australia that aren't pulling their weight when it comes to climate action.
Elsewhere, NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean recently proved himself future leadership material after announcing a ground-breaking electricity infrastructure road map which is expected to deliver $32 billion in private investment, almost entirely to renewable energy, to build 12 gigawatts of renewable energy backed up by two gigawatts of storage by 2030.
Matt Kean's plan is so good it's backed by Tomago Aluminium, the state's largest energy user.
"Anything that delivers cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy is something that we would be keen to explore," chief executive Matt Howell told The Sydney Morning Herald.
More importantly, Matt Kean has succeeded at Mission Impossible: uniting the NSW Liberals and Nationals on climate and energy, something the federal Coalition has been unable to do since Tony Abbott repealed the carbon price. The electricity infrastructure road map is also backed by Labor. Look out Tom Cruise.
Not all states are doing so well. South Australian Treasurer Rob Lucas just announced a great big new tax on not polluting - a road user tax solely for those who drive electric vehicles. NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet quickly followed, saying he would look at introducing a similar tax next year.
It's like slapping a new tax on people who have quit smoking because they no longer pay tobacco excise, or a new tax on Personal Protective Equipment manufacturers in the middle of a global pandemic.
Thanks to Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, Australia no longer has a domestic car manufacturing industry. Perhaps the only silver lining to this massive industry policy failure is that we now have no domestic car industry that could be negatively affected by accelerating the uptake of EVs in Australia. If Abbott, Hockey, Frydenberg or Morrison had a little more sense or foresight, perhaps by now Australia could be manufacturing electric vehicles using Australian-manufactured batteries made from lithium mined and refined in Australia. Sadly, the Coalition government has not even delivered mandatory fuel-efficiency standards, instead turning Australia into a dumping ground for gas guzzlers keeping us all chained to the petrol pump.
And now that Joe Biden is President-elect of the United States, this kind of arse-backwards policymaking could come back to bite us in more ways than one.
Biden's first act as president will be to rejoin the Paris Agreement. And Biden has a net-zero emissions by 2050 target, just like every Australian state and territory does, as well as major importers of Australian gas and coal like China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, with China soon to follow by 2060.
Some of our big trading partners like the European Union are also seriously beginning to consider imposing carbon tariffs on goods and services from countries like Australia that aren't pulling their weight when it comes to climate action. Biden has indicated he plans to pursue countries seen to be "cheating" on climate. The climate lifters will crack down on climate leaners, if you will.
Australia, which plans to use controversial leftover Kyoto carbon credits to avoid any credible emission reductions and doesn't have a net-zero by 2050 emissions reduction target, would certainly qualify as a "cheater". In light of China's aggressive trade threats as well as the global recession, Australia must take these risks seriously.
Australia's lack of climate action has rightfully provoked criticism on the international stage. Not only has the federal government resisted calls to act on climate from state and territory governments, it's ignored our Pacific neighbours and some of our largest trading partners. But the calls are getting harder to ignore.
The Climate of the Nation report shows increased support for Australian leadership on climate change, and seven out of 10 Australians (71 per cent) agree Australia should be a world leader in finding solutions to climate change. Australians accept the science on climate change. It's time our federal government did too.