The Guardian • Issue #2029

Australia: The big polluter

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2029

The Premier coal mine, Collie, Western Australia. Photo: Calistemon – (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Australia is the world’s largest gas and coal exporter. There are currently 114 new or expanded fossil fuel projects awaiting approval. In 2021-22, governments in Australia subsidised fossil fuels to the tune of $11.6 billion.

Labor’s legislated forty-three per cent target is an improvement on the Coalition’s twenty-six to twenty-eight per cent but falls far short of what the science calls for. Labor shows no sign of halting the opening of new mines or other fossil fuel projects. Instead, it seems to be relying on the yet unproven commercial scale carbon capture and storage.

Climate change is taking its toll.

The latest in a succession of devastating floods has seen thousands of homes, businesses, and farms inundated with water. Rivers and dams have burst their banks, streets have become gushing rivers, and water-logged farmland have become lakes. Following closely behind the previous inundations, the water has nowhere to go.

La Niña is the latest in a series of extreme weather events with the eastern states of Australia experiencing a succession of drought, horrific bush fires, and now flooding. People, wildlife, natural habitat, and Indigenous cultural sites have been affected.

Thousands of people have been displaced, some still homeless from earlier flooding. Relief has been slow coming, if at all. Disaster payments on offer are insufficient. Those who lost everything should be entitled to a buy-back of land or full assessment of what can be done to prevent flooding before rebuilding.

Town planners and developers have a lot to answer for. Many of these homes should never have been built where they are. Successive governments are also largely responsible for not taking the decisive and urgent action required to tackle climate change.

The phasing out of fossil fuels cannot wait. Nor can the implementation of adaption and mitigation measures.


Climate change is having a devastating effect on all continents of the globe.

Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia are facing the worst food crisis seen in forty years. In Somalia alone, seven million people are on the brink of famine, with growing numbers of children already dying. This is a direct result of climate change (drought), as well as rising food prices, and in some instances ongoing conflict.

Last month saw Pakistan hit by extensive flooding taking more than 1,350 lives and disrupting the lives of thirty-million people. The floods were caused by record monsoonal rains and glacier melt in the northern mountains – all attributed to climate change. Floods and landslides in India, triggered by intense monsoon rain, affected close to 800,000 people, disrupting electricity and water supplies and damaging infrastructure.

In Zhengzhou, China, record rains resulted in extensive flooding causing mudslides, turning streets into rivers, affecting farmland, flooding part of the subway and taking close to 300 lives and displacing 1.4 million people.

Hurricane Ian flattened much of western Cuba and then moved on to the US continent to Florida and South Carolina doing untold damage and with loss of life.

In 2021, floods in Western Europe cost more than 200 lives.


State and federal governments have a responsibility for the well-being of those affected by the floods and other extreme weather events. Developers with governments in their pockets, and the authorities who approved the building of towns on flood plains should be held accountable.

Immediate action is required to rehouse those who cannot return to their homes. Rebuilding or repairing damage without further measures will not provide protection against further extreme weather events.

Planning is required along with engineering- and science-based adaptation and mitigation to cope with extreme weather events.

There are alternative means to deal with the crisis being developed. China, for example, is developing “sponge cities” as a means to prevent flooding, promote biodiversity, and cut emissions. In contrast to “grey cities” with their sealed surfaces, dams, concrete levees, “sponge cities” allow for the absorption of water during high downfalls of rain and its release in times of drought.

They are a nature-based development of urban areas with abundant natural areas such as trees, lakes, artificial wetlands, and parks, along with permeable surfaces where the water falls through to urban drainage systems and is kept.


A just transition to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible is a priority.

“Fossil fuels are by far the biggest contributor to climate change, responsible for 86 per cent of CO2 emissions in the past decade. And nearly two thirds of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution can be traced back to just 90 fossil fuel companies. Enough coal, oil, and gas is already under production in existing mines and wells today to take humanity well beyond 1.5°C if burnt. Yet, despite this, governments around the world are expected to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels by 2030 that is consistent with keeping the 1.5°C target alive.” (The Fossil Fuelled 5, The Australia Institute (TAI))

The Political Resolution of the Communist Party of Australia adopted at its 14th Congress in February 2022 states: “Capitalism is the root cause of the climate crisis. In Australia it is difficult to differentiate between the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. Our local emissions may be relatively small on the global scale, but our fossil fuel exports make Australia a major driver of the climate crisis. The profits that fossil fuel executives draw from this destruction are used to buy political influence, influence that’s used to further favour coal barons at the expense of the public. Their pollution and environmental devastation drives climate change, mass extinctions, chronic disease, depletes rare earth minerals, and threatens our supplies of food and drinking water.”

“A planned, just transition away from a carbon-based economy will provide jobs, social protection, and security to workers, as well as to those communities most affected by the transition to a sustainable economy. A planned transition will ensure all climate policies are socially future-proofed. No workers or communities can be left behind in the move away from carbon culture to more sustainable forms of living.”


The US war machine is “one of the largest climate polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) than most countries,” according to research carried out by Durham and Lancaster University. Its emissions, just based on fuel usage, are larger than those of 140 countries. The military not only destroys human lives but all life on the planet as we know it.

Due to a loophole in the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are not required to include military emissions in their targets. Scientists for Global Responsibility estimate that the world’s militaries combined with the industries that provide their equipment create six per cent of all global emissions. The US frequently targeted oil tankers in Syria further releasing emissions.

The US military budget is US$770 billion – AU$1.24 trillion. Australia’s rapidly rising military budget was set at AU$1 trillion over twenty years back in 2017. Since then, there have been additional items added, most recently the nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS. These are estimated to cost $180 billion or more.

This expenditure hurts humanity on many fronts, not just greenhouse gas emissions and destructive wars. It diverts resources from social spending on jobs, education, health services, and social security.

Australia’s kowtowing to the US imperialism with its involvement in the US-Australia alliance, AUKUS, QUAD, Five Eyes, and hosting of US bases and espionage facilities such as Pine Gap is complicit in an arms race and destabilising global security.

“Peace is essential for the equitable, stable development of our societies. It abandons the logic of predation and substitutes it with mutually beneficial cooperation. It is built on and by the commitment of individuals and peoples to determine equitable policies that ensure the guarantee of rights for all,” the CPA’s Political Resolution says.

“Imperialism fuels the arms race and competition between multinationals for the control of resources and wealth, endless conflicts and wars, the long-term destruction of entire ecosystems. This has led to the systematic reduction of working people’s standard of living causing suffering and poverty for billions of human beings.”

“Global capitalism is the antithesis of peace. Internationalism has the political potential for citizens and peoples, the basis of strengthened cooperation, new global solidarities in the development of rights and freedoms, social and economic progress and development for all peoples, human and social emancipation, and the safeguarding of the planet and ecosystems.”

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