Stuck in slow lane

Australian Greens

Like Covid-19, the narrative in the race to dial back climate change also has the Morrison Government stuck in the slow lane. While Individual behavioural change isn’t a panacea for climate change, is the Morrison government even trying to incentivise it?

By Mark Brogan

Amid a Covid-19 outbreak back in May, the Morrison Government took the nation by surprise when it declared that the vaccine roll-out was ‘not a race’. At the time, it was pilloried for its lack of urgency. Developments with the Delta variant subsequently in New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT have further added to a pervading sense of a complacent government that poorly assesses risk and is not on the front foot with a growing national emergency.

But there is another race that is equally as urgent. The race to decarbonise our economy and way of life to avoid catastrophic climate change. After the Glasgow Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) this month, it is this race that is now front and centre. Like Covid-19, the narrative in this race also has the Morrison Government stuck in the slow lane. Ordinarily, this would be a race in which the government would be comfortable to be scratched from the field. But recent events have shifted the goal posts on climate policy fundamentally and made climate denial less tenable for a denialist government.

These events include the G7 Carbis Bay Communique[1], International Energy Agency (IEA) Net Zero by 2050 Report[2] and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Working Group Report on the physical science of climate change.[3] Collectively, they have made persistence with outright denial untenable on the world stage and resulted in the weak Australian bottom draw target of net zero by 2050. Having settled on this target, after much argy bargy with the Nationals, this is the slim baggage that the government is taking to Glasgow after eight years of denial and prevarication.

In the Carbis Bay Communique, the G7 nations committed to collective action aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees.[4] To achieve this goal, the G7 committed to cutting emissions to “around half compared to 2010 or over half compared to 2005.”[5] Net zero greenhouse gas emissions were to be achieved “as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest.”[6] IEA’s May statement, Net Zero by 2050, added to a sense of urgency declaring that exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop in 2021 and no new coal-fired power stations should be built, if the target of Net Zero by 2050 was to be achieved.[7] In August, IPCC’s Physical Sciences 6th Assessment Working group chimed in with an alarming report on the rapidity and intensity of climate change and the need for deep and sustained emissions reductions beginning immediately.

Carbis Bay marked a turning point with the world’s biggest most influential economies agreeing for the first time on a plan of action. It was big, bold stuff. But not everyone was singing from the same song book. On the sidelines with observer status only, Australia took on the role of spoiler. Australia would give no firm commitment to increase emissions cuts in line with the G7 and would not commit to a firm date for net zero carbon emissions. The spectacle was one of Morrison being diplomatically outed for what we have known for a long time. Namely, that the Coalition would rather die in the ditch with its fossil fuel benefactors, than do the right thing on climate.

And it is doing very little on climate. As part of the Paris Agreement in 2016, the Australian government committed to a target for GHG emissions reduction of 26-28% on 2005 by 2030.[8] Considered a weak target at the time, since Paris, obfuscation, dodgy accounting[9] and massive plans to expand the fossil fuel industry form the back story to expansion of Australia’s carbon pollution and the weak position taken to Glasgow. The reality is that claims of reduction are mostly attributable to short term effects from Covid and Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (so-called LULUCF) sequestration effects. When LULUCF is excluded[10], Australia’s emissions are increasing, placing it on a trajectory at odds with the G7. Figure 1 describes the trend:

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