- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #1975
Australia has already warmed by an alarming 1.4°C since 1910. This is compared with an average global warming of 1.1°C. The East Australia Current, the largest ocean current close to Australia, is warming at a rate more than four times the global average.
These are just a few of the findings of the Sixth Assessment Report (6AR) of the UN International Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) which attributes the speed and magnitude of such changes to the actions of humans. These changes affect every region of the globe, including Australia.
The 6AR looked at the impact of climate range on different regions and assessed the likely outcomes for five different scenarios based on differing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. To counter the present trajectory of climate change, deep and urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required.
The report confirms that the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are increasing in Australia. That includes both hot and cold extremes in different parts of the country due to the actions of humans. The report goes into detail looking at the impact on different regions.
The Paris Agreement on climate change, under which 196 parties set targets for greenhouse gas emissions, agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C and keep the increase well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
However, the impact of global warming is not even. If the more ambitious target of a global average of 1.5°C is reached, then Australia faces warming of 1.4°C to 1.8°C.
Climate extremes will become more common in Australia and elsewhere. The 6AR finds that there will be:
- Reduced rainfall and hotter temperatures in the Southwest of Western Australia, which will become more arid;
- Reduced river flows, drier soils, mass tree deaths, crop damage, bushfires and drought;
- Drying of winter and spring in eastern and southern Australia;
- Increases in dangerous fire weather;
- Increases in short sudden and heavy rainfall in the north;
- Sea level rise, coastal erosion;
- Eastern shorelines projected to retreat more than 100 metres with moderate or high emission increase;
- Warmer oceans contributing to marine heatwaves and having an impact on marine ecosystems, including bleaching the Great Barrier Reef.
Some changes would take centuries or longer to reverse, some cannot be reversed, but decisive action now with deep cuts in emissions could arrest the rate of change and save the planet. The next ten years are critical with the global average temperature rise set to hit 1.5°C in the early 2030s or sooner.
WEDDED TO FOSSIL FUELS
Australia is the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases. Its share of global CO2 emissions from domestic use of fossil fuels is about 1.4 per cent. Accounting for fossil fuel exports lifts Australia’s global carbon footprint to about five per cent. This is equivalent to the total emissions of Russia, which is ranked the fifth biggest CO2 emitter globally. (Climate Analytics 2017)
The government responded to the IPCC report by boasting how Australia is the best in the world, citing solar panels on rooves, changes in farming practices – measures taken by the public and farmers, not the government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison lauded his government for Australia being the most transparent country in the world when it comes to reporting on emissions. At the same time Morrison pointed the finger at the developing world, saying they should do more, and hypocritically citing China. Australia’s fossil fuel exports to China constitute a major component of our exports and Gross Domestic Product.
Queensland Nationals Senator and fellow coal worshipper, Matt Canavan, went further claiming that “action is quite futile now because China is not doing anything.” His brother just happens to be a mining executive, with significant investments in the sector. National Party leader Barnaby Joyce remains opposed to zero net emissions, deserting farming communities in support of the interests of the fossil fuel sector.
It is a blatant lie to say China is doing nothing. Last year, China’s President Xi Jinping told the General Assembly of the US that his country would reach carbon neutrality by 2060. In the Paris Agreement, China promised to cut carbon intensity by 60-65 per cent and to peak its emissions before 2030. It is accelerating its reductions. China is recognised as a developing country, its rapid development to bring millions of people out of poverty and develop industry over the past decades has been heavily reliant on coal for energy. It is now tackling the enormous task of transitioning.
It is also disingenuous to suggest China should move as fast as developed countries. The Paris Agreement stated that the peaking of greenhouse gas emissions would take longer for developing country Parties. Australia should be setting a far higher target than China and other developing countries.
Instead, Morrison claims that, “No one will be matching our contribution on technology.” He cites hydrogen and carbon sequestration, two technologies that remain unproven on an industrial scale, as the way forward.
AUSTRALIA’S TARGET TOO LOW
Just as with vaccinations, Australia has not led the world. But international and domestic pressure is mounting on the government to adopt a zero net emissions target by 2050 to take to the Glasgow climate summit in November. There is also widespread criticism that Australia’s target of 26-28 per cent reduction by 2030 compared with 2005 levels falls far short of what is required and what the rest of the industrialised world is committed to achieve.
The US, for example, has set a target of 50-52 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. The European Union Parliament has legislated to cut carbon emissions by at least fifty-five per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Australia as a rich, industrialised nation, should be pulling its weight, not pointing the finger at China.
“Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems,” the 6AR says.
“What is important is we ensure the technology breakthroughs that are necessary to transform the world over the next ten, twenty, and thirty years.” We don’t have that long! The IPCC stresses the importance of emission reductions in the next ten years.
This would require the major parties breaking free of the fossil fuel industries which still dictate the government’s climate change position. Donations from the fossil fuel sector should be banned and all government subsidies to the sector ended immediately.
Swift and decisive action to make deep cuts in emissions is required. Australia, with its vast coastline, strong winds, and plentiful sun is in a strong position to make a speedy and just transition to zero net emissions.
A just transition to renewables and zero or negative emissions can only be achieved through consultation with all parties, in particular the workers and their trade unions involved. No worker should lose income, be refused alternative work; they must be offered free retraining with adequate income support.
Australia has the capacity to reach zero emissions by 2030. This could be done through a just transition based on public sector research development of renewable energy, and the closure of mines.
The only way forward is to act on the science and take swift and decisive action as a responsible global citizen. The key barrier to Australia doing this is political. It would require the major parties breaking free of the fossil fuel industries.
In the financial year 2019-2020, fossil fuel companies bought off the Coalition parties and the ALP with political donations to the tune of $1,353,202. (marketforces.org.au) At the same time the Morrison government handed out a generous $12bil in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and states also made contributions.
Donations from fossil fuel sector should be banned and all government subsidies to the sector ended immediately.
A transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable. It comes down to a question of when and how.
Many of the skills of those operating equipment in the mining would transfer to the renewable energy sector. Thousands of jobs could be created with the construction and operation of wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries. These could provide jobs in mining towns and other regional areas of Australia.
Research and development in this field could see Australia become a major exporter of batteries and solar panels. There is scope for many more jobs than in the fossil fuel sector which employs around one per cent of the workforce.
Addressing climate change cannot be left to the markets. It is the role of government. Capitalism is driving climate change with its short-sighted pursuit of profits and in the process driving humanity and the planet to the brink.
Every country must play its part, and that includes Australia.