Why does Australia want to be so suicidal?

Apr 17, 2024
3d rendering of working oil pumping jack silhouette against the sunset

Australian leadership is no longer an embarrassment at UNFCCC COPs. Nonetheless, Australia’s participation in the fossil fuel industry, including through new projects, is not putting us on the fastest path to net zero. Will we miss our “brief and rapidly closing window” to secure a liveable future?

The UNFCCC COPs reflect the ‘international rules-based order’ trying to negotiate an agreement by consensus at a time of mistrust and amidst much suffering, including that caused by wars, even between some of those nations seeking to reach agreement at COP.

That the COP process has achieved as much as it has is really quite amazing. It is said that, without it, global temperatures would already have risen well beyond 1.5 degrees to nearer 3 degrees above that pre-industrial level outlined in the Paris Agreement.

And notwithstanding all the concerns articulated about COP 28, there were achievements. Including ‘signalling the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era, ’substantial funding for ‘loss and damage’, and the linking of climate action with nature conservation.


In my 6 years of involvement I have seen Australia’s contribution improve from not even recognising the need for targets to now when we have clear, measurable targets.

I have seen Australia’s political representatives go from being an embarrassment to actually offering leadership, as at COP28.

Nonetheless, our participation in the fossil fuel industry, including through new projects, even though there may be explanations, is not putting us on the fastest path to net zero.

Some members of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change heard Minister Chris Bowen speak of our need to be reliable export partners for others when we met in Canberra late last year. I recall him saying that, without Australia’s reliability as a trading partner for Japan ‘the lights would go out in Tokyo.’ These are the dilemmas of the transition and we have to be realistic about this whilst asking the necessary questions.

Looking ahead, I offer some thoughts as a question:

Notwithstanding the global recognition that ‘Later is too late’ is the message which cuts through, is that actually the case here?

We have overwhelming evidence from recent months of the predicted consequences of climate change: more extreme climate events are occuring more frequently!

But is this shaping our national discourse in a way that leads as fast as possible to net zero?

A Quaker friend in Geneva sent me the attached and asked why Australia wants to be so suicidal.

Heat and intense storms…no rain for months then floods…

We are in a time that, as a matter of common sense in crisis management, needs bipartisan cooperation on crucial matters. For example, on peacebuilding at a time of terrible suffering caused by wars and poverty; on immigration policy in a world of more than 120 million displaced people and with more to come as climate change refugees and, specifically here, on our transition to renewables.

Instead, regarding our pathway to a renewable energy system, we see the tactic of sowing fears and doubts rather than cooperating in the planning of what is an incredibly demanding generational challenge. Additionally, we now have a pre-Federal Election complication from the Opposition as regards nuclear energy, notwithstanding all the contrary evidence.

The political culture is always focused on the next election, as we know.

In the time to the 2025 Federal Election we must insert into the national discourse that, on climate action, we simply must act fast and before, as the last IPCC Report concludes, “we miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

The best and most objective advice tells us that what we do in the next few years, maybe just the next 5 or 6 years, will actually determine the survival of everyone and every place we cherish.

This is reality and it must focus our thinking and action, including through our Parliaments.

Locally, you are all doing what you can, as many are doing around the globe.

Internationally, at the Inter sessionals in Bonn, 3-13 June, the intention will be to progress the outcomes from COP28. This progress can then facilitate an effective COP29, November 11-22 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

At least, that is our hope and prayer. Remembering that the shaping and sustaining of the COP’s global agreements will always depend on the support of the Governments of member states.

The support needs to lead, this year of COP29, to a funded and transparent “Loss and Damage” fund for those people who do not have capacity to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Consequences like the effects of rising sea levels, both emotionally and economically, on our island neighbours in the Pacific.

This support needs to also be for our transition to renewables, so we ‘mitigate’ the effects of climate change by cutting greenhouse emissions; for ‘adaptation’ works that help communities take pre-emptive actions so as to protect themselves from the consequences of climate change. ‘Adaptation’ will involve things like stronger seawalls and better climate warning systems; crops that will now feed people when older crops are no longer beneficial because of global warming, etc.

On it goes…By 2025 we need to have updated and increased from 2022 our ‘NDC’-Australia’s Nationally Determined next Contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement…

It is by each nation lifting its climate ambition voluntarily that the Paris Agreement envisages we can prevent catastrophic climate change. This is the model of the COPs and it really is the only model that is feasible. But while nations can’t be forced to comply by the UNFCCC and will only do what they choose, this does place serious responsibility on richer nations like ours to do all that is possible.

These next years are an opportunity for Australia to offer real international leadership.

We can and must persist, locally and globally, in offering and encouraging inspired leadership!

Much has been achieved, but more needs to be achieved, faster!


A version of this paper was first delivered to the Bellarine Peninsula’s ‘Queenscliff Climate Action Network’, April 9 2024.

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