There is something but not much to celebrate over the safeguard compromise. It may well ensure we reduce our emissions by 43%. But the Labor government’s continued permissive attitude to new fossil fuel projects is in blatant disregard of the IPCC’s pathway to a 1.5C limit on global warming.
Just how conflicted is Labor? Until a week ago it was hell bent on opening the C02 floodgates by means of 116 new fossil fuel projects which, by 2030, would have emitted an estimated 4.8 billion tonnes of GHG (Australia’s annual emissions are 487mt CO2-e). So are we now to celebrate the estimated half of these projects proceeding and pushing out 2.8 extra billion tons of emissions into the globally overloaded stock of GHG? If so, we would be celebrating Australia’s flagrant disregard of the UN and the directions of the world’s most authoritative sources of research on climate change – the IPCC and the International Energy Agency (IEA). It’s not as if Labor was not fully aware of this well prior to the federal election. Two years ago the IEA called on carbon exporting countries to cease any new oil, gas or coal projects if there were to be any chance of keeping to 1.5C. There followed UNEP’s and Secretary General Gueterres’ blunt warning: global coal, oil and gas production needed to start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5C.
So if we regard the Green/Pocock/Teal deal as a policy turning point on the road to a sustainable Damascus we are missing the central issue. It’s our total contribution to emissions from both domestic and exported fossil fuels. On this there is a shameful code of silence adhered to by the government and opposition coalition. Labor’s conflictions are nowhere more obvious than in Chris Bowen’s statement that any emissions saving below 43% could be used to give a free pass to new gas or coal projects.
For its part the mining industry is running interference for the government and the Coalition through its orchestrated global misinformation campaign largely focussed on the major component of the fossil fuel overshoot – gas. To be held to account for this campaign are global fossil fuel multinationals– among them Exxon, Shell and BP – which have made public undertakings that they are working towards holding global warming to 1.5C/ 2C degrees. Such are the surfeit of grossly misleading statements and straight out lying doing the fossil fuel company rounds. A five month long Guardian study should put paid to any doubts about their subterfuge. It found that output by the world’s oil and gas majors represent “….multibillion-dollar bets against humanity halting global heating” – the world’s dozen biggest energy companies being on track to spend $103m a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas.
In the study’s crosshairs, however, are not just Middle Eastern countries and Russia. Australia, the US and Canada which profess honourable green policy credentials – but which have had the world’s biggest subsidies for fossil fuels per capita – were found to have the extremely large expansion plans. Nevertheless the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) – which advertise themselves as the ‘the voice of oil and gas’ – claims their objectives are ‘consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement’. Woodside Petroleum states it is pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5C and Origin Energy likewise says it “unequivocally” supports the IPCC agreement on the 1.5C limit. Santos says it supports the objectives of a 2C limit.
Such commitments together with the IPPC’s and IEA’s backing could have provided cover for the Government had it chosen to halt expansion of fossil fuel projects. In choosing otherwise Labor has had to go along with the fossil fuel industry’s (and more recently unions’) global misinformation campaign and which has been disturbingly successful in diverting public opinion away from their violated climate commitments by asserting gas has a major, ongoing role in the transition to carbon neutrality.
The thoroughly researched truth is that gas is only marginally – if at all – cleaner than coal (Webb P and I November 24, 2022) and is now cheaper than coal in almost all locations. Gas it is found is not replacing coal to any significant extent in Australia’s main LNG markets overseas and almost certainly will not do so in the future. As for gas’s industrial role, research shows it will certainly not require the current expansion of gas supplies over the next several decades (Australian industry absorbs a mere 1% of Australia’s current gas output).
The reasons for the conflicted mess which is Labor’s climate change policies need to be better aired. They are uninspiring. At the outset, Labor’s pre-election promise to allow new coal and gas projects neutralised climate change as an issue, locked in trade union financial support and provided dividends to carbon corporate contributors to Labor’s coffers. The critically important medium to long term climate change goals were sacrificed on the altar of gaining government and the jobs and profitability of the mining industry. The consequent carbonslide of WA seats now needs protecting for what Labor no doubt regards as a rightful long out of power second term. All this severely circumscribes Labor’s policy manoeuvrability. Witness the continuation of the Federal government’s $10.7 billion fossil fuel subsidy (larger than the defence budget) and which is still increasing – up $1.4 billion in 2022 over 2021. Bizarrely, the largest recipient (at around $4.7 billion) is the already hugely profitable mining industry.
It might be argued there is justification for Labor to have used a severely weakened climate change policy to oust a borderline climate sceptic government. If so, there is a responsibility for Labor to admit circumstances have since changed and that the massive economic and social cost of breaching 1.5C has heightening dramatically. With a severely weakened Liberal Party there would seem no better time to so claim and spend some of its substantial store of political capital in creating fit for purpose climate change policies.
Labor instead seems to be saving its political capital for re-election with its MPs salving their climate conscience by bathing in the fading light of the inadequate 43% reduction of our 1% of global emissions.