Environment & energy, Government and governance | Australia, The World

14 August 2015

To those wishing to see a strong commitment and strategy to tackle climate change, Australia’s announced target is disappointing, writes John Hewson.

The Abbott Government has finally announced its initial commitment, as its contribution to the global push towards an emissions reduction agreement in the Paris climate negotiations due in December, to reduce the country’s emissions by 26 per cent, and possibly 28 per cent, by 2030, from a 2005 base.

To those wishing to see a genuine commitment and strategy by the Australian Government, to pull our weight, as the world’s largest per capita emitter, as part of the global attempt to keep global warming to 2 degrees this century, this target is very disappointing.

It is only about half what was recommended by the Climate Change Authority, and well short of what will be required to achieve the global objective.

I am personally very disappointed as my Environment Policy for the ’93 election committed to a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2000, off a 1990 base. The Abbott Government commitment boils down, on the most favourable assessment, to roughly the same order of magnitude, but 30 years later. As a nation, we have lost valuable time, and embarked on a much more difficult and costly process.

It is a tragedy how short-term politics has been allowed to play around with, and delay our substantive response to this fundamentally important challenge over the last three decades.

Climate change is, as Kevin Rudd once suggested, the moral challenge of this century. It is also the most significant economic, political and social challenge as well. We owe it to our children, and their children, and their children’s children to respond much more substantively, and decisively, to the challenge. They will not forgive us for wimping it!

As the Climate Institute has pointed out, to be pulling our weight against the global objective, the maximum amount of pollution we can emit to 2050 is around 8-9 billion tons. The Government’s proposed target would see this limit breached in just 14 years, by 2029.

Although both the Government and the Opposition claim to be committed to the internationally agreed goal, so far these are just words, hollow rhetoric, with no substance in terms of realistic targets, let alone policies to achieve them.

Again, just playing short-term politics, claiming to be “in the middle of the pack” of developed nations that have set targets, without really being serious or genuine.

In reality we have gone from being a global leader, as we were in the Kyoto negotiations, to a laggard in the present negotiations.

Short-term politics has attempted to paint this target decision as having had to strike a “trade-off”, between emission reductions and growth, while minimizing the impact on electricity prices.

This is false. The response to climate change should see something of a “technological revolution”, bringing with it a host of new industries, new investment, new jobs, and new growth in renewables, alternative technologies and energy efficiency.

It is a tragedy that our governments have been happy to squander this opportunity. It was an opportunity we could have led, at a time when they are struggling to explain just how we will sustain our growth, living standards and employment post resources boom, with many other industries still flat, and manufacturing in decline.

The revolution is happening globally. Just one example is the rush to develop cost effective battery and heat storage systems, that will fundamentally shift the source of our power and much of our transport – solar powered homes and electric cars, with many having the opportunity to disengage from the present, mostly fossil fuel sourced electricity grids.

We should be leading this revolution, especially given our abundance of sun, wind, graphite for the batteries, and so on, and the smarts of our education and research institutions.

We need leadership, not self-absorbed, negative, short-term politics that will cost our nation, and maybe our planet, dearly.

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