Features Australia

Why Australia always cops it

We need to make new friends

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

The Climate Action Network branded Australia a ‘colossal fossil’ for its ‘appalling approach to climate change policy’ at Cop 26 in Glasgow.

Allies were scarcely more diplomatic. A Biden advisor said of Australia’s Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, ‘I don’t know whether [he] is an idiot or an ideologue’. But the Biden Administration is yet to pass the deep trough of climate change and social spending demanded by the Bernie Sanders wing. Biden talked tough at Glasgow but carried a little stick.

Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s Climate Commission, said, ‘I’m afraid that when you look at Scott Morrison from Australia, we’ve squeezed out of him a commitment to net zero by 2050 but there is no indication at the moment he’s got a proper plan for that’. However, the UK’s plan, which bans the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and new gas boilers for heating from 2035, isn’t credible. UK commentator Ben Pile says, ‘green technocrats are utterly indifferent to the lives of ordinary people’, adding that ‘a backlash is highly likely’ because the ‘cost of net zero is simply unaffordable for the vast majority of people’.

Australia also cops it from our own activists and politicians. Morrison committed to net zero by 2050 in Glasgow, but Professor Tim Flannery said, ‘our PM stood up in front of the world and effectively promised to do nothing’. Greens Leader Adam Bandt likened Morrison to a ‘cigarette salesman in a cancer ward’.

Just a taste of what Australia cops for delivering on our Kyoto commitments for 2020, being on track to deliver on our Paris commitments for 2030 and committing to net zero emissions by 2050.

This is especially frustrating when no country has a technically, economically, and politically credible plan to deliver on net zero by 2050. Fraser Myers, of the London-based online magazine Spiked, put it well:


There is a very good reason the world isn’t keen on net zero by next Wednesday. Because it would be a disaster. Even in the rich world, we do not have the technology to drastically decarbonise without also harming our living standards. And though our leaders pay lip service to Greta, [Extinction Rebellion] and other climate prophets of doom, deep down, they know that stringent eco-targets would be economic suicide.

So we get fantasy net zero plans. They rely on technologies not invented, or yet to be demonstrated at scale or to be safe and cost effective. This floats optimistic scenarios for green jobs and economic benefits from reducing emissions. The savings from climate damage avoided are overestimated. US climate envoy John Kerry admitted, ‘when almost 90 per cent of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside of US borders, we could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved’. If that’s true of the world’s second-largest emitter, how much more so of any other country’s net zero plan? Bjorn Lomborg assessed that ‘every dollar the Paris Agreement costs will avoid just 11¢ worth of long-term climate damage’, branding it ‘by far the most expensive pact in history’.

Deep down, people know these net-zero-by-2050 plans are fairy tales. Fossil fuels underpin modern economies and lifestyles. Drastically reducing their use will be hard, costly, and painful. The Cop process is an elite status game to see who can best signal their green virtue by spruiking the most unrealistic commitments. It’s becoming a green-left religious festival, where an elite secular priesthood sermonises that we’ve sinned by emitting too much and must atone by phasing out fossil fuels faster.

But why is Australia always the whipping boy?

There is the culturally dominant Left’s increasing intolerance of anyone who doesn’t toe their ideological line. They have a vindicating desire to take a hammer to the beliefs and attachments of others and to thrill at their destruction. Also revealed is the Left’s radical ingratitude for the stupendous benefits we have reaped from fossil fuels and the essential invention that made the modern world possible: the ability to turn heat into mechanical work. First through the steam engine, followed by the steam turbine and internal combustion engines.

The different treatment of Canada and Australia is instructive. Canada has reduced its emissions by only about 3 per cent since 2005. Its Paris target was a 30 per cent reduction by 2030, now upped to 40-45 per cent. The moral opprobrium is directed at Australia’s less-than-enthusiastic embrace of the virtue-signalling status game of ambitious commitments rather than being targeted at Canada’s lacklustre emissions reduction record.

There are other reasons why Australia is targeted. Some major fossil fuel-producing countries are too important to be whipping boys. Russia is a major supplier to Europe of essential natural gas and oil. China and India are developing countries with massive populations and large and growing markets. And few dare to criticise oil exporters like Saudi Arabia for fear of jeopardising supply and raising prices should they respond by cutting production. The focus for the moment is on coal.

Green-left think tank the Australia Institute ranked countries by the greenhouse gas potential of their fossil-fuel exports. Russia leads, followed by Saudi Arabia and then Australia. Of the top 14, only Australia’s and Indonesia’s are dominated by coal. Indonesia, a developing world Muslim country, is not a suitable whipping boy.

Australia is the number three exporter of fossil fuels by greenhouse gas potential, dominated by coal; is a developed world, predominantly white, settler society; and neither Europe nor America depends on Australian exports. We are the international Green-Left’s perfect whipping boy!

Our friends in the emissions reduction negotiation game are our fossil-fuel customers in Japan, Korea, India, and South-East Asia; and our fellow medium-power fossil-fuel exporters like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Colombia. This will be a strategic, diplomatic, and cultural challenge for Australia. Our relationships with Japan, Korea, Indonesia and India are the most important. But we should quietly step up engagement with South Africa, Colombia and the oil exporters. A similar consideration of beef exports aligns us with Brazil and Argentina.

Australia will continue to cop it, but we need not be alone. Our friends in the emissions reduction game are not our old cultural and strategic friends in Europe and America; they are a different set of countries aligned to our trade in Asia and our fellow medium-power fossil fuel and beef exporters. Honest commentary needs to get beyond our traditional cultural deference to European and American elites and find common ground with a wider range of resource and agriculturally intensive medium powers.

We need to get more comfortable being in their company.

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