The Guardian • Issue #2080


  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2080

Anna Pha

The Middle Arm ‘Sustainable’ Development Precinct is the subject of a Senate enquiry now. The Northern Territory government describes it as “a clean energy investment and jobs powerhouse … In a global first, the Precinct will be largely powered by renewables, master-planned to achieve a circular economy approach of sustainable and responsible production and will use technology to achieve low-to-zero emissions.” The production processes of liquid natural gas might be “sustainable” but its use is not, nor is the expansion of gas production at a time when the science dictates an urgent reduction if climate warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. Expansion and government subsidisation of fossil fuel production is not unique to Australia.

“Governments, in aggregate, still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. The persistence of the global production gap puts a well-managed and equitable energy transition at risk.” This is one of the key findings of the UN Production Gap Report. The ‘gap’ is between what is produced and what the science dictates for the 1.5°C target. Unlike the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports, its contents are not censored by governments. Government plans and projections point to an increase in global coal production until 2030, and in global oil and gas production until at least 2050! This is a serious breach of commitments under the Paris Agreement, and clashes with expectations that global demand for coal, oil, and gas will peak this decade.

“An equitable transition away from fossil fuel production must recognise countries’ differentiated responsibilities and capabilities. Governments with greater transition capacity should aim for more ambitious reductions and help finance the transition processes in countries with limited capacities,” the report says.

Australia is a country with great transition capacity but it is an understatement that it is not aiming for ambitious reductions, or making serious finance commitments to those countries with limited capacities. For the sake of the survival of the human species, Australia should be phasing out fossil fuel production and usage as rapidly as possible. But the Albanese government, like the Coalition before it, is pursuing and even subsidising a rapid expansion of production and export of fossil fuels.

Informed by the latest scientific evidence, the 2023 Production Gap Report identifies global pathways for coal, oil, and gas production from now until 2050 that are consistent with the 1.5°C goal. It then assesses governments’ plans, projections, and policies for fossil fuel production and how aligned – or misaligned – they are with the pathways.

The report examines global levels of coal, oil, and gas estimated under government plans and projections pathways. It finds them to be 460 per cent, 29 per cent, and 82 per cent respectively higher than those under 1.5°C-consistent pathways. Not a single major producer country is on a pathway to reducing coal, oil, or gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C. The 20 major producer countries account for 82 per cent of production and 73 per cent of consumption of the world’s fossil fuel supplies.

Australia will increase the gap with the development of the Middle Arm Precinct.

The extraction and burning of fossil fuels also produce many near-term and localised non-climatic social, economic, and environmental harms to humans and the environment. The report analyses some of these.

As Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute, points out:

“We’re in a grim situation, and it’s even grimmer that the politicians have failed their responsibility to the world now for quite a long time. We have a massive political failure. Our politicians like wars. They don’t want to save the planet, in the right way.”

As the ecological economist Herman Daly said: “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse. We’re part of nature and everything in nature, including us, is interconnected. What we do to it, we do to ourselves.”

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