The world can act now to avoid the worst consequences of climate change and have no significant impact on our standard of living. That’s a key message from the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The key phrase here is “acts now”. Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC working group behind the report, said it’s “now or never” to keep global warming to 1.5℃. To reduce emissions from fossil fuels, action is necessary. Global emissions must peak within three years to have any chance of keeping warming below 1.5℃.
Unfortunately, Australia is not behaving as if the largest issue facing us is urgent – in fact, we’re doubling down on fossil fuels.
Australia has seen a significant increase in its population in recent years. Qatar was overthrown to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). We’re still the second-largest exporter of thermal coal, and the largest for metallurgical coal.
Time’s up, Australia. It is time to talk about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and promoting clean alternatives.
Why can’t Australia keep selling fossil fuels during the transition?
You might think: “Sure, Australia needs to transition. It will take many decades for the world’s fossil fuels to be completely eliminated. Why can’t we keep selling gas and coal in the meantime?”
Because we’re out of time. As the report states, “if existing fossil fuel infrastructure … continue to be operated as historically, they would entail CO₂ emissions exceeding the carbon budget for 1.5°℃”.
And US climatologist Michael Mann Recently pointed outAustralia would be the worst continent for people to live on in the face of climate change. We are “a poster child for what the rest of the world will be dealing with,” he said.
It is urgent that we take action to stop the destruction and enormous expense caused by unchecked climate changes, which have been recently estimated at Close to 40%Global GDP to 2100
We must accelerate the transition by accelerating greening electricity supply, electrification, transport, industrial processes improvement, management of land use, and food production. The technologies necessary to achieve this goal have been developed and are often more competitive than carbon-emitting options.
The transition would have minimal economic impact. The required investment in clean energies would be minimal. around 2.5%GDP. That’s far less than the costs of allowing global heating to continue, with costs further offset by clean energy’s zero fuel costs and lower operating costs.
What are Australia’s prospects for weaning off the fossil fuel teat?
Are we starting to see signs of urgency? If you look at the election platforms of Australia’s major political parties, we are still falling far short.
The Liberal government, after nine years of office, has reluctantly set a goal for net zero emissions by 2050. However, it has offered little more than that. Wishful thinkingAs a policy response.
Last week’s budget projected funding cuts of as much as 35% for Australia’s clean energy finance and renewable energy initiatives.
The most serious failure is the inability to plan for the transition. Despite this, Demands for gas and coal workersLiberal and Labor continue to believe that coal or gas have a long-term future, despite not being able to honestly assess their position.
Labor has supported worthy initiatives like the Rewiring the Nation Program, which aims to support private investment in modernizing the grid and making it ready for high levels renewable energy.
But the opposition’s main concern has been to avoid any policy that leaves it open to attack from the Coalition and the Murdoch press. You can see this in Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s repeated declaration that “the climate wars are over”.
This means that in 2022, there will be an election campaign in the United States in which neither major party has any serious ideas to reduce emissions. There’s no mention of a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme, no real action on land clearing, and no expansion of the government’s Protective mechanismThis is an incentive for large industries to reduce their emissions relative to a baseline.
Lagging on transport
The rising cost of renewable energy is one bright spot in the fight against climate changes. Cost alone is driving out the power sector’s coal and gas.
The pace of change is slower in areas like transport, which the IPCC report states has excellent prospects for reducing emissions.
“Electric vehicles powered by low-emissions electricity offer the largest decarbonisation potential for land-based transport,” the report says.
Australia’s transport failures are obvious. We must move to all-electric vehicles in order to reach net zero by 2050. Because cars last on average 20 years, almost all new cars must be electric by 2030.
By contrast to almost all developed countries, Australia doesn’t have a fuel efficiency target, or plans to end new sales of petrol vehicles. While the government has no plan to address this issue, Labor offers a minor tax concession for electric vehicles and a fuel efficiency website.
These baby steps are a stark contrast to the bipartisan rush by politicians to protect petrol users from rising costs in the wake the invasion of Ukraine.
We’ve stalled long enough
We’ve run out of time to deal with the problem of global heating. We can’t afford to wait three more years.
What would it look like if Australia’s next government realises the urgency? It would stop all new investments in fossil fuel production, electricity generation, and fossil-fuel reliant industrial plant such as blast furnaces for the steel mills. It would increase investment in carbon-free substitutes and open up pathways for fossil fuel workers to the green economy.
Our leaders would speak openly and honestly about the enormous threat that climate change presents to us all, as well as the potential benefits of quitting fossil fuels. We would become leaders instead of being laggards. Imagine that.