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Climate Summit: “THE WORLD IS ON RED ALERT”

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola, Australia, on Tuesday, Dec. 31 2019. This fire season has been one of the worst in Australia's history, with at least 15 people killed, hundreds of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. (Matthew Abbott/The New York Times)

“Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago,” Fidel Castro warned the 1992 Earth Summit (Rio Summit). Almost thirty years on, global warming and climate change are on the precipice of irreversible change. The growing recognition of the urgency by world leaders was reflected at the virtual climate summit called by US President Joe Biden from 22nd to 23rd April.

Leaders from forty countries took part in the summit making new, concrete commitments to step up the pace of their reduction in greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. It was recognised that the next ten years are critical if there is any chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees C, let alone the preferable 1.5 degrees C.

The earth is warming more quickly than previously predicted by scientists. 2020 was the hottest year on record – 0.82 degrees C above the 20th century average.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on leaders everywhere to take urgent climate action. “Mother Nature is not waiting, he said. “We need a green planet – but the world is on red alert.”

Polar ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an alarming rate causing oceans to rise and changes to ocean currents. Permafrost regions are releasing additional methane and CO2 due to thaw. Warming and acidification of oceans (in particular, in the southern hemisphere) are bleaching coral reefs and impacting biosecurity. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and are set to worsen. The future of humanity is at stake.

Australia, in a relatively short space of time, has experienced drought, bush fires of a nature never seen before, unprecedented flooding, and the devastating cyclone in the north west of Australia. The year 2019 was the hottest on record in Australia and 2020 the second hottest.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives us until 2030 to make radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and until 2050 to reduce these emissions to zero if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Summit pledges

Leaders from forty countries including China, Russia, India, the UK, Canada, the US, South Korea, Australia, and Kiribati (who spoke for the smaller Pacific islands that face inundation), took part in the two-day summit.

Biden called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. He spoke on human health and security, water, coastal management, food security, water scarcity, and human impacts. He also covered the issues of stopping deforestation and the loss of wetlands, and restoring marine and terrestrial ecosystems, logging, and the importance of traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities in ecosystem protection.

The US-led the way by pledging to cut emissions by 50-52 per cent by 2030 (double its previous target) compared with 2005 levels and net zero by 2050.

Canada upgraded its plan to reduce emissions to 40-45 per cent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels – a significant reduction from its previous target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Brazil committed to achieve net zero by 2050, end illegal deforestation by 2030, and double funding for deforestation enforcement with financial assistance from the US.

China pledged that its use of coal would peak in 2025 and the country would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. President China’s Xi Jinping said he would “strictly control” the country’s coal-fired power plant construction over the next five years and “phase down” coal consumption in the five years from 2025.

The European Union is putting into law a target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 and a net zero target by 2050.

Japan increased its 2030 target from twenty-eight per cent to forty-six per cent by 2030 compared with 2013 levels.

South Korea said it would stop its state institutions coal power overseas and strengthen its commitment to be consistent with its 2050 net zero goal.

South Africa announced that it intends to strengthen its commitment and shift its intended emissions peak ten years earlier to 2025.

The United Kingdom said it would legislate for a seventy-eight per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2035. (NB Scotland in 2020 was producing 97.4 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources.)

A disgraceful performance

What did Australia pledge? Nothing. Absolutely nothing new. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison waffled on about technology. “For Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net zero, but importantly how.” Instead of a commitment, former PM Tony Abbott’s Paris target of 26-28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 remains. He could not even give commitment for net zero emissions.

“In Australia our journey to net zero is being led by world class pioneering Australian companies like Fortescue, led by Dr Andrew Forrest, Visy, BHP, Rio Tinto, AGL and so many more of all sizes.” In other words, it is being led by fossil fuel companies! He could have added that Australia, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied gas and second largest of coal, is still expanding its fossil fuel industries.

Morrison boasted about Australia’s (highly questionable) achievements as though the rest of the world could not see Australia’s performance. He touted clean hydrogen, carbon capture, green steel, and energy storage as the way forward.

He concluded: “Future generations, my colleagues and excellencies, will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver. And on that score Australia can always be relied upon.” This appears to be a shallow, arrogant attempt to play down his failure to give a new, enhanced commitment and put down those who did.

Put simply, the Coalition government has no plan, no target and shows no evidence of a serious commitment to addressing climate change. It serves the interests of the wealthy fossil fuel industries that splurge large political donations on it. It is not fit to govern.

What Australia should do

The Climate Council’s acting CEO, Dr Martin Rice, says Australia should be reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by seventy-five per cent by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2035.

Climate Council spokeswoman Professor Leslie Hughes said Australia is far from where it needs to be. “For too long Australia has been focused on protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry rather than protecting our citizens from the ravages of climate change. The international community is judging us, and won’t tolerate further inaction,” she said.

Australia has great potential to be one of the world’s most successful producers of renewable energy, having an abundance of sun, wind, and oceans.

“Right now, we are on track for catastrophic climate change of 3 degrees C of heating and maybe more. At just over 1 degree C of heating, we are already paying a serious price, as we have seen with the recent Black Summer bushfires, prolonged drought, and the third mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in five years,” Climate Council expert Professor Will Steffen said.

Urgent action is required. The Communist Party of Australia calls for:

  • The government to make a commitment to reduce ghg emissions by seventy-five per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 and for net zero by 2050
  • A rapid and just transition to renewable energies in consultation with the trade unions, while ensuring employees in the fossil fuel industries are given new employment and training as appropriate
  • A plan for regional development that protects regional and rural communities which includes wind and solar energy development and storage
  • An end to the billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies
  • Cancellation of the military industry projects and providing a just transition to other forms of manufacturing
  • Redirection of infrastructure spending to the expansion of public transport
  • Encourage the use of electric vehicles and provide charging stations across the country
  • End logging and create and protect our unique ecosystems and biosecurity
  • Take mitigation and adaptation measures, drawing on Indigenous knowledge and practices
  • Plan land use, protect waterways and end water-thirsty crops such as cotton
  • Not carry out any activities on the lands of indigenous people that would cause environmental degradation or that would be culturally inappropriate.

“Capitalism created the looming environmental catastrophe. It cannot play a role in its solution,” Dr Hannah Middleton said in the CPA’s new publication, Fighting for the Future.

“[Capitalism] will not redirect the trillions of dollars from the military and corporations toward saving us from environmental catastrophe. They will not end government subsidies for the fossil fuel and extraction industries.”

Middleton summed it up: “The issues are clear: either we advance to a society geared to meet human needs and to live sustainably with the environment or we allow corporate profits to continue to dominate and see humanity and our planet destroyed. We are at a crossroads – people and environment before profit or profit before people and our planet.”

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