Climate change is here. We’ve witnessed it locally. We’ve witnessed it abroad. And the warnings for the future of Australia are dire, according to the latest, much-anticipated report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But egos, power and a lack of courage look set to continue Australia’s political disinterest, avoidance and fear on the issue.
The report, bringing together hundreds of scientists across 60 countries examining thousands of pieces of research, shares that Australia has warmed 1.4 degrees since 1910. In one seriously dire note, it highlights how the ocean region across the East Australia Current is warming at more than four times the global average.
The report’s predictions for the future ahead due to this and further warming includes a number of specific consequences for Australia: rising sea levels leading to further coastal erosion; more frequent and severe fire seasons; worsened rainfall and river floods; fewer days of rain across Eastern Australia but then heavier rains when rain days do occur; and more frequent and severe droughts.
This report should signal the urgent end of coal and fossil fuels. It should be the wake-up call Australia needs to move from last of the 193 countries the UN recently ranked according to those taking action on climate change, to somewhere significantly higher up the list.
So will this IPCC report change things in Australia politically? Will it be the turning point the country needs to move forward, and provide the courage to significantly change course?
That seems unlikely, based on what we’ve previously seen from the Morrison Government on climate change, which continues to refuse to commit to reaching net zero emissions, despite such disinterest seeing the country further sidelined internationally.
It also seems unlikely given the power-at-all-costs mentality of this and previous governments, as well as an unwillingness to consider legacy or even anything beyond winning the next election.
And yesterday, just prior to the report being released, the Prime Minister gave an indication of just how this report would shape his policymaking. Hint, not much, at all.
When questioned by Adam Bandt from the Greens on the report that would be released within hours, Morrison was flippant and nonchalant in his response. And frankly offensive to anyone who feels the pressure and concern about what comes next.
Indeed, he used the question as an opportunity to dig at “those who want to talk Australia down” and gaslight Australians again on the so-called “achievements” this country is making on climate action.
“There may be those in this place who want to talk Australia down, Mr Speaker,” he said. “They want to talk Australia down about what we’re achieving. But I can tell you the farmers of this country have been putting their shoulder to the wheel of this task Mr Speaker, the resources industry is putting their shoulder to the wheel on this task, Mr Speaker.”
He went on, claiming his government is backing these industries because it “believes that you can get emissions down, you can keep electricity prices down, that you can address the future industry needs of this country, Mr Speaker, and you can do that in a way that is complementary and that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.”
I hope Morrison goes and actually reads this report, because what he said above — no matter how much he wants to believe it — is not true, according to the hundreds of scientists who put it together. It’s also not true accounting to Morrison’s many counterparts internationally, who see the challenge ahead and are making significant transitions away from fossil fuels.
Then, Morrison went back to taxes: the giant big tax that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard put on big polluters that has supplied fodder for Coalition Governments for years — and was wound back by the Abbott Government. Funny, Australians will now face a different tax due to our lack of action on climate, only this time the money collected will go offshore. That could be in the carbon taxes the European Commission is looking to introduce on Australia’s exported goods, which may be closely followed by the United States and Japan and more. This, more than the IPCC reports and the years of warnings on the future that awaits, could actually be the catalyst that sees Australia making real commitments.
Australia still has a Prime Minister who supports the opening of new coal mines and famously waved a piece of coal in Parliament, declaring it’s nothing to be afraid of — when actually it very much is. Australia now has a deputy prime minister in Barnaby Joyce who vehemently opposes emissions reductions measures and anything that threatens the future viability of the coal-fired industry. Australia has an Opposition that lacks the will and the courage to step up and offer something significantly better.
But Australia has everything it needs to adapt to a greener future and to be a world leader in innovation and supply, given our abundance of natural resources. The global demand for clean technologies and energy is set to exponentially grow in the coming years. We have the opportunity to be a “renewable exporting superstar”, according to Melbourne University research. We have everything to avoid those carbon adjustment taxes that will be put on our exports overseas.
And yet, Australia’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — which is absolutely the least that we can do — has not been set in stone, with no clear target established. Rather, the policy remains that the country will get there “as soon as possible”.
There can only be two reasons why the Morrison Government refuses to move forward. The first is that it doesn’t believe the science. The second is that it doesn’t care enough about the science to take the courageous steps necessary and move Australia in line (and possibly beyond) with what our international counterparts are doing on climate action. It is hard to know which one is worse, but I’d settle with the former in the hope that a change of leader or government can set us on a cleaner course.
The Morrison Government does not care about the future of this country. It can not look beyond the future of the next election. It is incapable of considering its legacy and of having the courage required to play its part in setting the world on a very different part. It is incapable even of lifting a finger to move beyond our shameful place as the worst of 193 countries on taking action on climate action, to even the second worst.
The Morrison Government fails to acknowledge the opportunity in acting now — not only for presenting a very different future for younger Australians but also for created a greener economy and the possibilities that exist within greener industries — for jobs and research and innovation and hope.