The notable absence of significant funding to address climate change is particularly tragic in a 2021 Budget that already places a large economic burden on future generations.
It’s also tragic when considering some of the wider ambitions this Budget hoped to achieve, such as going some way (but not far enough) towards achieving women’s economic security, including through more spending on women safety and the caring sector. We can’t separate these things from our responsibility on climate action, particularly when you factor in the risk to women and children associated with major weather events locally and abroad.
How we can get to 2021 and still be tinkering around the edges on climate action in Australia is beyond belief, especially less than 18 months out from the Bushfire crisis. Especially also when Australia is appearing increasingly isolated on its failure to address the crisis, falling behind China, Canada, the United States, the UK and many others.
And using the word tinkering on what the Morrison Government outlined in support of climate action in this budget is being extremely generous.
In his Budget speech on Tuesday night, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg got the closest the Morrison Government has come to establishing a net zero target, by saying that “Australia is on the pathway to net zero and our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, preferably by 2050.”
Granted, merely mentioning the word “climate” in a Budget speech is a big step up from recent years. But to hear Frydenberg discuss a “preference” for his government in reaching essential climate action goals that much of the rest of the developed world has already firmly placed on the table, sounded particularly grating.
The arrogance rose further as it became clear that Frydenberg would outline very little on climate action. There would be no green recovery here, as other nations are pursuing, no bold ambitions for jobs creation within what could be a burgeoning renewable energy.
What we got is hydrogen hubs. Carbon capture and storage. And yet more funding ($58.6 million) for the “gas-led recovery”. Gas projects are expensive. They create few jobs. And while ideologically safe for the Morrison Government, they contribute to, rather than help alleviate, the climate crisis.
We got all the above in the new Budget, just as Australia is continuing to subsidize the fossil fuel industry — costing taxpayers $10.3 billion over the 2020-21 financial year, according to research released in April by The Australian Institute. These massive subsidies are costing almost $20,000 every minute: that’s taxpayer dollars going into coal, oil, gas and other major users of fossil fuels.
In addition to that hydrogen, capture and storage funding, this Budget offers what could be described as climate change response measures. It highlights resources to support in preparing for, responding and recovering from major weather events. It offers guarantees to make insurance more affordable, drought resilience measures, and funding for a new National Recovery and Resilience Agency to lead our response to natural disasters. It appears to accept that recovery and resilience is our new normal, while failing to actually address, and then barely even speak of, the role we can take in keeping temperature rises down.
We do need to be able to respond to major weather-related events and natural disasters. But we should equally seek to mitigate such disasters in the first place. The post-Pandemic period is/was the time to do so
Recently, the journal Science calculated the cost benefits of a green recovery, finding that with 10% of the more than $12 trillion committed to economic recovery globally was spent on clean energy, we’d be on the way to globally meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goals.
That’s not happening in Australia. Very far from it. And it’s an opportunity missed, not only for creating a sustainable future but also for using a green-led recovery to help target and close inequality gaps.
As Cassandra Breeze Cabellos and Elizabeth Sawin write on the findings in The Hill, if such clean energy measures were properly designed, a massive shift away from fossil fuels could help close inequality gaps across race and gender.
“Decision-makers must recognise that equity never improves by accident. Green investments produce improved equity only with intentional planning,” they write. That includes designing policies to intentionally target marginalised populations, cross-sector collaboration, ensuring community buy-in and offering significant stimulus packages to help support environmental protection and justice goals.
Australia has failed to pursue a green recovery, and the jobs creation and equity benefits that could result from it. Not only that, the Morrison Government continues to fail to contribute anything close to “our bit” on climate action, despite what they say and regardless of the number trickery they can offer in attempting to prove we are meeting and beating our Paris obligations.
Morrison himself had very little to say in terms of climate action ambitions when addressing a recent major global climate summit. He did nothing to establish a date for achieving net-zero emissions, as other countries did, including the Biden Administration in the United States that has committed to half emission by 2030. As well as Brazil, which committed to climate neutrality by 2050. And China, which cemented its push to get there by 2060.
Indeed, during that global summit, Morrison actually said it’s companies like BHP and Rio Tinto that are leading us on the “journey to net zero”. He made the comments in the same week that he took a jab at those living in metropolitan areas of Australia who are raising concerns about climate change. “We’re not going to achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner city,” he said.
One wonders what Morrison genuinely thinks will solve the climate crisis, and why he’s so determined to do nothing about it.
To then go ahead and hear the Treasurer suggest a “preference” for reaching net zero emissions is absolute arrogance. Make the commitment. And fund the path that’s required to make it happen.