The Guardian • Issue #1988

Death knell for fossil fuels

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1988

On the 12th of November, the Coalition released its long-awaited plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Misleadingly called “Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan,” it sets out to achieve this target by increasing emissions! It is irresponsible and dangerous.

Whether it be at COP26, at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the G20, at every turn the Morrison government has sought to block decisions to phase out coal and other fossil fuels. It continues to cynically put private profits and political donations before the planet.

The Plan not only encourages the expansion of coal mining and coal exports, it relies on the private sector and households and as yet undeveloped and unproven technology to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, said: “Given the fact that the agreement [COP26] did not say that coal needs to be phased down or taken out, it is a green light for us to build more coal mines.”

That’s a lie. The agreement signed by 197 countries did include a commitment by all parties, including Australia, to “phase down” the use of coal. The phrase had been changed from “phase out” on the insistence of India.

Australia was NOT given the green light to build more coal mines.


The Plan says, “Our latest projections show that under a Technology Investment Roadmap-aligned scenario, Australia will reduce emissions by up to thirty-five per cent by 2030.” That begs the question: Why couldn’t the government have increased its Paris climate summit pledge to that figure instead of leaving it at 26-28 per cent?

The government has a tactic of setting low targets and then boasting of over-achieving. “We have beaten our Kyoto-era targets by 459 million tonnes and expect to beat our 2030 Paris target by up to 343 million tonnes,” it says. In fact, latest predictions suggest a reduction in emissions of 30-38 per cent by 2030 is far from enough.

The targets set by Australia at the Paris summit in 2015 are low compared to those of other developed countries; and now Australia lags even further behind by failing to increase those targets for 2030 as other developed countries have done.

Australia’s commitment at Paris was to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. The UK and European Union aim for reductions of 68 per cent and 55 per cent respectively on 1990 levels. Japan pledged to cut emissions by 46 per cent based on 2013 levels.

The government is handing out taxpayers’ money hand over fist: $20 billion over ten years to the private sector, including $1.2 billion for seven “clean hydrogen” hubs.

It will continue to encourage the opening of new coal mines and contrary to the COP26 agreement Adani has already sent its first train load of coal to Abbot Point port for export to India.


The claims about job creation from expanding fossil fuel and heavy industries are based on a myth being pushed by the resources sector that the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels would amount to massive job losses and the destruction of regional communities.

These industries are capital intensive, employing relatively few workers. Redirecting the $20 billion earmarked for the private sector – and the billions already being paid in subsidies to the fossil fuel companies – to other areas including the development of clean energy would create many more jobs. This has been proven overseas where substantial transitions to renewables have taken place.

The public sector is starved of funds. Public hospitals, education, housing, aged care, the NDIS, Medicare, women’s services, Indigenous housing, and health – there are so many areas where this money could and should be redirected.


One of the government’s proposals is for the private sector to voluntarily use carbon offsets as a means of reducing emissions. This is the joker in the pack. A carbon credit or carbon offset is a credit representing one ton of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. Individuals or companies looking to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions can buy those credits through an intermediary or directly from those capturing the carbon. It has become a multibillion-dollar industry for the intermediaries.

Friends of the Earth International in a report released in 2009 exposed carbon offsetting as “ineffective and damaging, and as a con which is failing to reduce, and in some cases is even increasing, carbon emissions.” The report, A Dangerous Distraction, shows that offsetting is profoundly unjust, fundamentally flawed, and cannot successfully be reformed.

“It pays for projects intended to reduce emissions in developing countries while rich countries continue pumping out climate-changing gases with impunity – when the science demands that carbon reductions are made in both developed and developing countries,” the report said.

“Plans to reduce emissions from deforestation through proposals that allow rich countries to buy chunks of forest whilst continuing to pump out emissions, is simply an extension of carbon offsetting. 1.6 billion people rely on forests, including sixty million Indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests for their livelihoods, food, medicines and building materials.

“Including forests in carbon markets is likely to trigger a land grab – leaving these communities struggling to survive.”

Meena Raman from Friends of the Earth Malaysia said:

“It is disgraceful that despite the urgency we are facing to tackle climate change, rich industrialised countries are trying to buy their way out of emission reductions through perilous offset schemes. Instead of cheating and continually failing to address climate change, they should live up their historical responsibilities and repay their climate debt.”

The Coalition’s government’s Plan involves the private sector purchasing carbon offsets “from our Indo-Pacific region.” It is criminal that the government is in concert with big business in their drive to exploit developing countries in this way. Australia has a responsibility under the Rio Earth Summit agreement to do the heavy lifting AND assist those countries with the necessary resources for their survival. Australia should also have an open door to climate migrants.


The first train carrying coal from Adani’s Carmichael mine has been shipped to Abbot Point port.

The campaign against Adani is gaining traction as the transnational polluter has been deprived of insurance from Australia, the US, China and Europe. Market Forces reports that forty-two insurers have publicly ruled out underwriting the project, but Convex Insurance has not. (

The government argues that Australia’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is 1.3 per cent and hence not significant. This overlooks two factors. The first is that when exports of fossil fuels are taken into consideration, the total contribution to fossil fuel production is around eleven per cent. The other factor is the question of equity. Australia is the second highest emitter on a per capita basis.

Australia’s obligation under the Rio agreement to do the heavy lifting is based on equity – the payment of the carbon debt owed by countries including Australia.

As the Wilderness Society WA put it, referring to the Morrison government’s planned new offshore oil and gas fields: “This is an attempt to broaden the footprint of fossil fuels. The mindless creep of fossil fuel expansion is being pushed onto communities that do not want it.”

And as UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned in Glasgow, climate change “must sound a death knell for fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.”

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