When a lump of coal was presented in Parliament to the cheers of conservative MPs no doubts could remain regarding their position on global warming, covered with the thin fig leaf of the Paris agreement. One wonders whether the PM would now be willing to repeat his statement of 2010: “Now our response to climate change must be guided by science. The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got.”
There were still hopes regarding the ALP’s priorities, ever since it was elected in 2007 under the banner of “the greatest moral challenge of our time” but these were are just about dashed once “Shorten told reporters on Monday that, if the Adani project cleared all the regulatory hurdles, “then all well and good”.
Although the major parties have differed about the renewable energy target (RET), with the coalition proposing 23 percent target and the ALP aiming at 50 percent target, the conservatives replaced the RET with a National Energy Guarantee (NEG) while Labor appears to retreat from their 2030 target.
Neither party appears to say too much about the open secret of Australia’s large-scale coal and gas exports. This is despite, in 2016, Australia’s thermal and metallurgic coal production reaching 555 Million tonnes, of which 485 million tonnes coal were exported. Global coal production is 6693 million tonnes. Thus Australia is contributing more than 5 percent of global coal-sourced emissions, not a small proportion for a population of 24 million people. These experts translate to 33 tonnes of coal per-capita.
Labor’s acceptance of Australia’s energy exports contradicts its claim for any meaningful action on climate change: From wherever it is emitted, the CO2 goes into the same atmosphere.
The Adani mine alone will see up to 2.3 billion tonnes of coal extracted from an area five times the size of Sydney Harbor over 60 years, equivalent to emitting some 7.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, the approximate total of 5 years coal production in Australia.
A close corollary to the energy policy of both major parties is that of Norway, which, while aiming at a high RET, continues its extensive oil drilling program in the Barents Sea and elsewhere.
And while the Greens are the only party opposed to fossil fuel production and combustion, there are signs some of the Greens worry the issue may scare potential voters away.
The coal and CO2 double counting, while politically expedient, can only enhance the climate calamity currently underway, including the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around the world.
We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.
(Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chief climate advisor to the German Government)
Dr Andrew Glikson, Earth and Paleo-climate science, ANU School of Anthropology and Archaeology, ANU Climate Change Institute, ANU Planetary Science Institute, Honorary Associate Professor, Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, University of Queensland