“Unconscionable”: Albanese government’s massive fossil fuel developments mock mitigation efforts

Nov 16, 2023
Australia from space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. 3d

Anguish, despair and fear for the future will ravage your brain when you read the latest edition of the UN Production (emissions) Gap Report. Your distress will further increase when you read that Australia will increase the Gap with the development of the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct, when to stand any chance of addressing climate change, we must phase out of all fossil fuel production now.

This precinct is at present subject to a Senate enquiry which the NT government describes as–“a clean energy investment and jobs powerhouse. In a global-first, the Precinct will be largely powered by renewables, master-planned to achieve a circular economy approach of sustainable and responsible production and will use technology to achieve low-to-zero emissions.”

Their timing is unconscionable when the world is at peak anxiety as climate change may soon become unstoppable.

The UN Production (emissions) Gap Report Report is written by more than 80 experts from 30 countries spanning the Global North and Global South. It finds Governments, in aggregate, still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.or even 2 degrees. The persistence of the global production gap puts a well-managed and equitable energy transition at risk.

We could regard the Report as an IPCC report without governments and fossil fuel companies fiddling with the final version.

Many other recent studies reviewed by Carbon Brief confirm there is a “large consensus” across all published studies that developing new oil and gas fields is “incompatible” with the 1.5C target.

Even worse, a growing number of the world’s climate scientists now state that the 1.5 target will be reached before 2030. James Hansen says that 1.5 degrees is “dead as a door nail” and we must now stay below 2.0 degrees. Such a future is grim when you consider the extreme weather events now occurring at just less than 1.5 degrees C.

The salient reason for the expected oncoming world chaos is stated by Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute who said:

“We’re in a grim situation, and it’s even grimmer that the politicians have failed their responsibility to the world now for quite a long time. We have a massive political failure. Our politicians like wars. They don’t want to save the planet, in the right way.”

Indeed climate change is a war for our survival, and at present our politicians are being defeated on the climate front in the face of their own ignorance and ineptitude by powerful fossil fuel interests, by media and social media misinformation and a neoliberal economy which devours the environment in its quest for growth.

As Herman Daly said, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.” We’re part of nature and everything in nature, including us, is interconnected. What we do to it, we do to ourselves.

One could ruminate on how Labor could be in Opposition for 9 years and fail to educate themselves on the greatest threat to humanity?

These failures to address the climate challenge are compounded by a progressive erosion of public trust in Parliament as described in the recent House of Representatives Speaker’s Lecture. The Lecture makes many suggestions for reform but more drastic reform is needed if we are to reverse our current retreat from our duty.

In a military war the experts, the generals, discuss strategy every day. In our environmental war, our leading experts in climate and environment should be the Generals and not those unable to understand the science. How can you comprehend ministers soon to have a 2 month break when trees are still being felled daily after the government has been in office for 18 months? The government and many States still support logging “forestry” yet maintenance of tree cover is crucial to our battle for survival. Their green wash indicates they support “climate-smart forestry”.

The government has failed to grasp the simple fact that their success with renewable energy must be accompanied by phase out of all fossil fuel production and stopping any further mining now.  The word Sacrifice is mandatory in war. The current issue needing most attention is Australia’s rapidly increasing production Liquid Natural Gas-fossil gas. As of July 2022, Australia produced 88 million metric tons per year closely followed by Qatar and the USA. Nearly all is exported. The importing countries burn it and incur the scope 3 emissions. Australia enjoys the income to boost the budget and argues that the increase in world emissions is small and if we don’t export the gas others will: this is the drug dealer’s defence.

Analysis by Robert Howarth professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, reports that the export of LNG is particularly damaging to world emissions because of increasing evidence that its emission profile is more damaging than that of coal. The emissions of methane leaked from the mine, and by venting and flaring are significantly increased when exported because of leaks at various stages of the liquefaction processes, transfer to ships and a further series on leaks when the LNG processes are reversed and the gas transferred to its places of use in the processing country.

Currently in Australia a Senate enquiry into the Middle Arm Industrial Precinct which will receive gas from Beetaloo and other gas fields and transfer it to an export hub, Middle Arm, Darwin. The methane gas leaks described above will mingle with pollutants from a hub of factories and industrial facilities, including a new LNG gas processing and export hub, petrochemicals, minerals processing, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen (blue and green).

The gas from Beetaloo contains a large range of toxic chemicals used in fracking and also those released from shale seams all of which can have serious health impacts. It is likely that some of these toxic substances will already be circulating in the Darwin region from existing gas export facilities. But this has not yet been explored by government.

President Biden has recently approved new export hubs for LNG gas on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. Environmental justice advocates have criticised the Biden administration saying pollution will further endanger disadvantaged communities.  Local community groups say “The Biden administration is speaking out of both sides of their mouths,” They say they care about frontline and environmental justice communities, but they have yet to address the fact that the air we breathe is making us sick, giving us asthma and skin conditions.

Unfortunately in addition to your anguish, despair and fear for the future, you may have become breathless with the audacity of  Government and Opposition in the Senate approving the Sea Dumping Bill which will allow carbon capture and storage under the sea by the Santos Barossa project. It is a process of storage which at best can store 50% of emissions. It is also a step forward for Middle Arm and Beetaloo. The government is clearly determined to get a return on its initial 1.5 billion dollar investment in its ‘sustainable’ project.

Australia will have widened the Gap.

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