Critical Decade: is the government concerned about the future?Mar 23, 2023
We all want a better future for our children, and our grandchildren. The Government however seems unconcerned whether there is going to be a future at all.
The late Professor Will Steffen was a preeminent climate scientist and one of the expert members of the Australian Climate Commission, which recommended the Gillard Labor government introduce a carbon pricing scheme (Clean Energy Act 2011). This imposed an additional cost for using fossil fuel products. The scheme ran from 2012 to 2014, and successfully brought about a measurable reduction in carbon emissions.
In a recent online Europapeum lecture, Dr Steffen explained the climate crisis. His arguments are profound, explaining that we have entered an Anthropocene Era, the first ever geological era caused by the actions of mankind. He describes the multiple environmental and climate damages being wrought, and their dire consequences. We are changing the environment and the climate dramatically, with damage accumulating since our ancestors invented modern industrial methods, about 200 years ago.
But the most rapid climate change has only occurred within the last 80 years, within current lifetimes. New industrial developments during WWII gave us powerful bulldozers, cranes, jet aircraft, nuclear energy and penicillin, all which massively increased our power over nature. The climate problem is not simply fossil fuel use, it is the endless destruction of forests, the clearing of pasture lands, industrial farming, city building, all facilitated by powerful modern machinery. These activities are causing the extinction of innumerable animals and plants, and as our population explodes we build vast cities and infrastructure, and replace much of the natural world which sustains life on earth.
The Albanese government now offers a modest ‘target’ – a 43% reduction in (2007 level) carbon emissions by 2030, and an ambitious ‘goal’ of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Dr Steffen explained these new mandated ‘targets’, even if achieved, are utterly inadequate for reversing the climate disaster. These dire conclusions are also those of the UN Climate Change Commission, stated in the recent sixth IPCC report.
Albanese’s government are a revelation compared to the previous Coalition, and may win another decade of power, but with their inadequate ambition Australia will lose precious time to fight rapidly worsening climate damage. Unlike the Coalition, it seems inconceivable the government would not consult the best scientific advice, yet the outlook is not positive. The government seems to not want to spend developing the renewable energy economy. Having set more ambitious emissions reduction targets, they hope private capital will be activated to achieve their modest aims.
The government has expressed interest in making Australia ‘a renewable energy super-power’, again without major investment in particular technologies. This is to be achieved by more TAFE training and apprenticeships, so skilled workers will be available, if required. Logic says that very significant government investment, guidance and support is required to kick-start important new industries, against strong global competition.
The UN IPCC, the IMF and our Productivity Commission recommend a carbon price as the best fiscal tool to induce the public to transition away from fossil fuels. It would also directly reduce emissions, far more effectively than the Abbot-era Ponzi-scheme – the ‘Climate Safeguard Mechanism with slightly improved policy settings’ which is currently before parliament. The Greens, Teals and independents who ask for improvements to make it effective are vilified as ‘climate wreckers’, a title Labor once reserved for the Coalition.
Remarkably, the previous Coalition government was impressive in some regards – they dispensed with ideology and became a ‘big spending government’ when circumstances required. They accumulated $1 trillion in debt to service an embattled Australia during Covid-19. They joined the AUKUS alliance, now revealed to have a $368 billion plus price-tag. Their investment in Snowy 2.0 for stored hydro-energy capacity demonstrated they would build critical renewable-energy infrastructure in the national interest. Positively, the Albanese government announced large-scale transmission for critical renewable power. Importantly, will it introduce an effective, proven emissions reduction scheme, such as a carbon levy? The cross bench parties and Australia’s public would strongly support it.
Labor in opposition said much about ‘preventing unprecedented’ floods and fires. Professor Steffen’s ‘Critical Decade: Extreme Weather Report’ explained a decade ago that urgent action to prevent dire climate consequences was needed. Yet, their legislative program suggests little real concern for climate damage. We continue to approve new gas and oil exploration licences, against the demands by the UN and the IEA for nations to halt development of new fossil fuel production.
Emissions reduction pledges by nations involve local emissions, not the emissions of their overseas customers. Yet, what new climate disasters must occur before the government acknowledges that emissions resulting from burning of our fuel exports are already adding to Australia’s own climate events?
To paraphrase the Coalition wail: ‘Australia produces just over 1% of the world’s share of greenhouse gas emissions, why should we reduce’. We unfortunately experience much more than our share of the world’s extreme droughts, bushfires and floods. Why? – Australia is experiencing the effects of our own customer’s carbon emissions. It is not called Global Warming for nothing.