- by Matthew Hole
- The Guardian
- Issue #1972
Recent major flooding across Germany, Belgium, and China, along with wildfires in Northern America have sharply brought back into focus the need for urgent united action on climate change. Eighteen months into a global pandemic that has seen almost 200mil infections and over 4mil deaths, global warming has continued on its path towards a 1.5ºC increase in global temperatures and beyond. The global community cannot wait for the COVID-19 crisis to be over before taking the concrete steps required to mitigate the worst effects of human-induced climate change. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is being held in Glasgow in November this year, a critical juncture in this global fight.
FLOODING AND WILDFIRES
Northern and central Europe’s worst flood in over 100 years has been responsible for at least 217 deaths – 177 of those in Germany, thirty-seven in Belgium, and one each across Italy, Austria, and Romania. Damage to infrastructure across Germany and Belgium has been severe, leaving people without power for a sustained period and thousands of forced evacuations. Expected insured financial losses total €2.55bil, with the total figure much higher than this. The European floods were precipitated by heavy rain on 12-15 July as a storm complex moved from eastern France into Germany and stalled for two days. Global warming decreases the temperature difference between the poles and equator, slowing down the speed at which storms move over land and increases the risk of major flooding activity.
This same phenomenon has led China’s Henan Province in Central-Northern China to receive its heaviest rainfall on record, with an annual volume of rain falling within just 24 hours on the 17th of July – as much as 201.9mm per hour. At least seventy-one people have died in these floods, with over 1.1mil relocated and over US$12bil in property damage.
Meanwhile, the north-west of the North American continent has been experiencing a severe heatwave, which has been described as virtually impossible to have occurred without human-caused climate change. The village of Lytton in British Colombia set a Canadian record of 49.6ºC before itself being destroyed in the wildfire that followed. Climate modelling for decades has predicted the increased prevalence of extreme weather events that are now becoming our reality and are only expected to worsen whilst the temperature keeps rising.
NET-ZERO PLEDGES AND THE G20
The global fight against climate change is in a much better position than it was just a few years ago, when then US President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5ºC, given he described it as “very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” Commitments by China, the United States and the European Union (three of the four largest global carbon emitters, the other being India) to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 and 2050 respectively, have been a critical turning point against this shared threat. But more needs to be done to limit the growth in global emissions throughout this decade, with the coal industry squarely in the crosshairs of climate campaigners.
A recent G20 meeting held in Naples has failed to deliver an agreement on a target date of 2025 to completely phase out fossil fuel subsidies, along with an end to the international financing of coal projects. Another opportunity will come during the G20 summit in Rome in October, just one day before COP26 begins.
AUSTRALIAN COMMITMENTS LAG BEHIND
The Australian government is yet to commit to a date as to when they will meet the target of net-zero emissions, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison refusing to lock in 2050 as has been demanded by local campaigners as well as many governments across the globe. The National party, being the junior Coalition partner to the Liberal Party, no longer the party for farmers but one for Big Coal, remains a key roadblock to making a pledge in the interest of the global community. It’s expected that significant pressure will come from other nations should this commitment not be made before the global climate summit in November. Coal makes up approximately fifteen per cent of our exports nationally, and whilst demand is decreasing relatively as other nations move towards renewables, this hasn’t yet caused a slowdown in political donations to the major parties. Australia’s political donation landscape remains one of the more opaque systems in the developed world, to which support for the fossil fuel industry increased by forty-eight per cent between 2015-2019, the largest rise across all G20 nations.
UNIONS PUSH FOR A JUST TRANSITION TO RENEWABLES
A number of Australian unions have been campaigning recently pushing for a just transition to a renewable energy future. A new report on Australia’s offshore wind potential has been in part funded by the maritime, electrical and manufacturing unions, and calls on federal and state governments to take immediate steps towards the development of an industry which has the potential to create thousands of jobs for workers currently working in fossil fuel industries – a reminder that an organised working class is the best vehicle in which to promote positive societal outcomes.
CLASS ACTION COURT RULING A LANDMARK CASE
In May this year, eight teenagers that met through the School Strike for Climate movement brought a class action against the federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for failing to protect the health of millions of future Australians, after she had approved the extension to the Vickery coal mine owned by Whitehaven Coal near Gunnedah, NSW. Whilst the application to have her blocked by injunction from permitting the extension to proceed was unsuccessful, federal court judge Justice Mordecau Bromberg did state that the Minister had a duty of care to protect Australian children and the environment from the impacts of climate change, in what will have cascading effects for considering precedents in future class actions.
Rather than increase efforts to combat climate change, the Environmental Minister has instead applied her focus to appeal the court ruling. Again, this is a reminder that politicians in Australia continue to work on behalf of their donors rather than in the interests of ordinary Australians.
It is being shown time and again that the interests of capital are incompatible with the interests of the majority. The Australian government must put a timeline on achieving net-zero omissions and resetting emission reduction targets for 2030 that have been unchanged since the Abbott government. All of our futures depend on it.
While such reforms may slow down climate change – fundamental socio-economic change – socialism – is the only way we may reverse it.