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Labor’s election truce on climate change

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

‘They lied,’ said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week as he described the Western world’s virtue-signalling greenhouse gas emissions commitments as ‘a litany of broken promises’. This month’s IPCC report, he lamented, is ‘a file of shame, cataloguing the governmental empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world’. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise  – and high-emitting governments lie about their actions; ‘they are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames’. That’s without mentioning the recalcitrant refuseniks, especially Russia and China, with plans for huge increases in the fossil fuels that the IPCC targets as the main cause of the greenhouse gasses that are claimed to cause global warming.

Guterres’ hissy fit removed any lingering prospect of the Coalition and Labor fighting next month’s election on Australia’s emissions policy. ‘The climate wars are over,’ said opposition leader Anthony Albanese, acknowledging electoral reality after Prime Minister Morrison’s politically expedient nominal embrace of net zero last year, long before the current revelations. It is now no longer feasible to accuse the Morrison government of being a ‘laggard’ or failing in its ‘duty to save the planet’, when the most vociferous of the West’s climate warriors, like the US and the UK, are shown by the IPCC not only to have failed to match their virtue-signalling promises, but are now revealed as phonies as they desperately look to reviving their fossil fuel industries (even the arch-enemy coal) to replace the Ukraine war bans on Russian supplies. Morrison was lambasted for having ‘sold-out’ to the environmental lobby by agreeing at last November’s climate change talkfest to match the West’s evidently dodgy commitment to zero emissions by 2050 (in order to avoid being a climate pariah with the foreign investment negativities that implied). But it is now evident that he was doing no more than joining in the West’s hypocritical charade, with the reality that, without some game-changing technological breakthrough, net zero was from the very beginning a meaningless climate gesture – but a necessary political one.

But all this has let neither Morrison nor opposition leader Albanese off the climate hook. For Labor, the Green threat to inner-city ‘sandalista’ seats will be reinforced by the hysterical nature of responses to the ‘reasons for concern’ in the latest IPCC report. Guterres’ hyperbole (not matched in the IPCC report itself) is almost a word-for-word repetition of the decades-long doom forecasts from the UN. ‘We are on a fast track to climate disaster… as emitters are not even meeting their current inadequate pledges that would limit emissions to a 14 per cent increase this decade during which we actually need to CUT global emissions by 45 per cent to keep the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris within reach’.

As the New York Post has noted, these predictions have been failing for half a century. In 1972 at the first UN environment summit in Stockholm the organiser and later first UN Environment Program director warned that we had just ten years to avoid catastrophe. In 1989, the head of the UN’s Environment Program declared we had just three years to ‘win – or lose  – the climate struggle’. In 1982, the UN was predicting planetary ‘devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust’ by the year 2000. ‘Nonetheless, after 50 years of stunningly incorrect predictions, climate campaigners, journalists and politicians still hawk an immediate apocalypse to great acclaim’.

Clearly, the time has come for a fresh approach. In the Australian last week, climate writer Graham Lloyd queried whether the response being advocated through the IPCC process to the world’s warming is capable of delivering an outcome. ‘The latest IPCC report details the poor returns from the current approach. Net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2010 across all major sectors globally. Events in Britain and elsewhere in Europe suggest there is a real possibility the cost of taking action will exceed the political capacity to act, even before funding a transition in the developing world is considered’.

Lloyd quotes the warning from climate scientist Judith Curry in a new paper published in International Affairs Forum that ‘the complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity of existing knowledge about climate change’ is not reflected in the policy and public debates, with the result that rushing to implement 20th-century renewable technologies in transitioning from fossil fuels risks wasting resources on an inadequate energy infrastructure, increasing our vulnerability to weather and climate extremes and harming our environment in new ways – and leaving no space for imagining what our 21st-century infrastructure could look like, with new technologies and greater resilience to extreme weather events, or even to deal with traditional environmental problems. And in a further slap at climate change hyperbole, Curry notes that the narrative of existential crisis and catastrophe is not contained in the official IPCC reports (it uses the term ‘reasons for concern’) and this hyperbole gets in the way of finding real solutions.

In any event, the reality that Australia faces an election campaign in which neither major party has put up serious ideas to cut emissions, is of major concern to the Left, as John Quiggin’s latest Conversation contribution shows: ‘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 safeguard mechanism that is meant to provide incentives for large industries to cut emissions relative to a baseline… The opposition’s main concern has been to avoid any policy that leaves it open to attack from the Coalition and the Murdoch press’. Quiggin reflects the Left’s disappointment: ‘Unfortunately, Australia is not behaving as if the largest issue facing us is urgent – in fact, we’re doubling down on fossil fuels. We have to talk about weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and exporting our wealth of clean alternatives’. The Green vote will inevitably benefit from Labor’s silence.

But the Liberals face an even worse threat from an opportunistic, dishonest left-aligned (but with middle-class appeal) exclusively anti-government zero-emissions party masquerading as independents in key Liberal seats and all under the aegis of an organisation led by an entrepreneur with a significant vested interest in the renewable energy industry. There are no political gestures that the government can make to diminish this threat; there will be no electoral benefit from Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s Budget announcements of $22 billion of public investment in low emissions technologies by 2030 or undertakings to meet emissions targets. And while the broader electorate simply wants affordable, reliable and secure energy, the power the ‘independents’ want is not energy, not even from renewables – it is the political power of being crossbenchers during a minority government. It’s called political blackmail; exercising power without responsibility.

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