At COP27, oil and gas lobbyists triumphed, while badly injured developing nations were condemned to die with the promise of palliative care.
COP 27 was an “unmitigated” disaster indicating that international cooperation is incapable of stopping climate change. However the environmental degradation caused by our own actions in Australia can be addressed and we must act now.
Yes, financial help for developing nations suffering from climate change was agreed at COP27 but we should be aware that in 2009 developed countries agreed to contribute $100bn a year in reparation finance to poorer countries by 2020. The target has not been met.
During the thirty years of the climate Conference of Parties (COP) world emissions have risen progressively, with promises and betrayals despite the recent UN report indicating there is still no creditable pathway to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. We must ask what our government can do to stabilise our fast deteriorating life support system, our natural environment and biodiversity.
A recent article in the journal Science “Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points” indicates that tipping points, thresholds that if crossed, trigger large-scale and potentially irreversible changes in part or all of the Earth systems. Indeed it is possible some have been triggered already, only time will tell.
The main malfeasance of COP27 was to embrace the oil and gas industry which is prepared to skate on thin ice for their profit. Mr Looney, the Head of oil and gas BP, has said there would need to be investment in new oil and gas projects as far as 2050, even as global economies moved towards carbon neutrality!
He must know that his advocacy for gas as a transition fuel is incorrect when he acknowledges methane leakage from gas wells in Australia. Across the globe it is a “huge issue” that needs to be fixed on economic and environmental grounds. He hasn’t done it because it is difficult or impossible and would reduce profit.
Consequently, the government needs to put in place urgent measures to stabilise a deteriorating environment, one of the causes being climate change which unfortunately is fostered by its own entanglement with the gas industry.
Let us examine what needs to be done and the impediments which have to be overcome.
Australia is fortunate in being an isolated continent. There are no national boundaries through which rivers flow or pests or diseases can spread directly unless we are incompetent. Currently we can feed ourselves. So whilst other nations commence fighting over water or food, we are secure. Also while we depend for climate change control on action by hundreds of other nations, we are solely responsible for stabilising our national environment.
The State of the Environment Report recently assessed Australia’s environment and heritage, rivers, oceans, coastal regions, air, land, soil and urban areas. It is a vivid picture of nature crumbling under the combined pressure of prodigious land clearing, habitat loss, invasive species, mining and pollution, five compelling issues which need urgent action in addition to climate change.
The report details a litany of environmental damage and species decline; more loss of mammals than any other continent and many other losses of wildlife due to land clearing for sheep and cattle grazing, with 7.7 million hectares (about 19 million acres) of land cleared between 2000 and 2017 with only 7 percent assessed under federal legislation by Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The clearances are an indictment of the actions of Australia’s 26 million people and their governments..
In 2017, 15,000 World Scientists from 184 countries warned that human well-being would be severely jeopardised by some types of environmental harm, such as a changing climate, deforestation, loss of access to fresh water, species extinctions and human population growth.
More recently the environmental challenge to the government is depicted by the world’s leading biodiversity scientists who write “First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action”.
Government needs to understand and address not only this compelling issue but also to explain that it is inevitable that standards of living will fall as we spend on reparation from floods, fires, droughts and heatwaves which will increase in frequency and intensity. To acknowledge the hard times ahead with falling living standards and sacrifices, it is not easy to see captains of industry secure millions in annual bonuses for indifferent services while mothers and children sleep in cars. Inequality which is extreme in Australia, erodes trust, increases anxiety and illness. In deteriorating economic times inequality can be corrected only by taxing the rich; we have yet to start.
To increase trust, we must prioritise an increase in the wages of low paid essential workers in health and social services which has already commenced, and deliver improvement in health, age and disabled care, with housing as an essential health need.
Unfortunately there will be little help from the main print media which should have a role in disseminating accurate information. One major player continues to deliver disinformation and the other is selective and averse to important issues such as population.
Action on inequality and environmental degradation is needed now, not just within the term of this government, of after the holiday break when parliament deigns to sit again. Now must be right now to reflect the urgency of the situation.
The issue to be addressed right now is detailed every day with many media reports; continuing land clearing from; – logging, tree and vegetation removal in every state and territory; increasing damage to vegetation and water resources from gas mining; developments harming wetlands, vital habitats, inadequate urban planning fostered by lack of population policy and an immigration policy bolstering unsustainable industries; most importantly reform of an economic system which disregards natural capital.
How do we address this? A moratorium should be imposed on all approvals for land clearance and new water dispensations anywhere in the nation for 3 months till a government committee of scientific experts details a series of changes. If we haven’t the legislative structure to deal with the issue, then reform democracy to enable us to cope in a world of fast moving crises.
Finally what to do about our perceived need for Australia to host a COP? In the mind of government this would signal Australia’s return to climate mitigation after 10 years of abysmal neglect, and also bestow the economic advantage of “mass tourism” if we disregard the emissions it causes. To be truly productive, COP must surely become a meeting of the nations with independent scientists and other experts only.
Excluded would be thousands of industrial lobbyists who knobble government delegates with disinformation and thousands of NGO representatives, moths fluttering around a gas flame they hope they can snuff. All of us must address more astutely the non-climate environmental issues wrecking our future.