Dunlop, Sturrock warn of Australia’s ‘fringe’ status on climate change | Thought Starters 25 August 2015

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In a piece that first appeared in The Age (August 14, 2015), CPD fellow Ian Dunlop and CPD analyst Rob Sturrock suggest Australia’s policy on climate change is relegating the country to ‘fringe player’ status on the international stage. 

Amid growing pressure and heightened expectations, Australia has announced its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) target to take to the Conference of Parties in Paris in December.

It reinforces the notion of Australia as climate laggard going against the tide of science, action and opinion.

Tuesday’s announcement provides a meek objective of 26 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, based on 2005 levels. The contribution is inadequate for several reasons. Primarily, it does not contribute to keeping temperature increases to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It does not aid Australia’s decarbonisation of the economy in the longer term.

“In remaining a climate laggard, Australia continues to go against the global trend. What has become increasingly obvious recently is that the tide is coming back in on climate change action at home and abroad. A growing international community consensus for action is noticeable.

By comparison, the Climate Change Authority called for a minimum reduction of 45 per cent on 2005 levels. Overall, Australia will remain the highest per capita emitter commensurate with its role as a major contributor to the global fossil fuel industry.

It reaffirms that Australia will be a fringe player in Paris, seen as marginal at best and obstructionist at worst in achieving genuine progress. Our commitment is less than Canada’s, another mining-centric climate-sceptic nation.

In remaining a climate laggard, Australia continues to go against the global trend. What has become increasingly obvious recently is that the tide is coming back in on climate change action at home and abroad. A growing international community consensus for action is noticeable.

Recent research by the United States-based Pew Research Centre concluded that climate change was seen globally as the biggest international challenge. New momentum on climate leadership has been provided by the US and China. With these two great powers providing strong leadership, the prospect of substantive progress with the rest of the international community in Paris is high.

The pressure from business, civil society and the public on the Australian government to follow suit is intensifying, and the demands will only persist after this latest announcement. In late June a roundtable comprising divergent stakeholders such as the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Climate Institute, the Australian Council on Social Service, the Investor Group on Climate Change, and the ACTU demanded the end of the politicking and uncertainty over climate policy and demanded Australia catch up with the rest of the world.

Australians also understand the impact climate change has on other areas of life. In a poll recently done for the Centre for Policy Development, 68 per cent of respondents agree that damage to our food supply chain and agriculture from increases in extreme weather is a national security threat.

Australians want climate change taken much more seriously; 59 per cent of respondents to a recent Climate Institute survey agreed that the government is under-estimating the seriousness of climate change, and agree that Australia should be a world leader in finding solutions.

Australians also understand the impact climate change has on other areas of life. In a poll recently done for the Centre for Policy Development, 68 per cent of respondents agree that damage to our food supply chain and agriculture from increases in extreme weather is a national security threat.

The government framed the INDC announcement around being economically responsible, but it is reckless for both the short and long term, given the acceleration of climate impacts.

farm landscapeThe business community is increasingly anxious over the future cost of inaction to the economy. Australia is poised to miss out on trade and employment opportunities climate action presents through the development of renewable energy and other climate-based industries, technologies and services. Large-scale renewable energy investment in Australia has fallen a staggering 90 per cent in the 12 months before the announcement of the renewable energy target review.

While the government talks of protecting ordinary households, it ignores the economic pain already being brought by climate change. Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg even admitted that skyrocketing insurance premiums in north Queensland (more than 80 per cent between 2005 and 2013) are attributable to frequent extreme weather in recent years.

Climate change will directly affect our primary industries and our food supply, and place enormous strain on economic and social infrastructure. Yet the government’s Direct Action strategy has been labelled a “holding policy” that fills the vacuum of not having a genuine policy. The economic costs of inaction are mounting while the government makes the hollow case that climate action means a weaker economy.

The Abbott government seems determined to ignore climate science, dispute emerging solutions, downplay international agreements, stymie renewable energy proposals and refuse to accept our responsibility to lead. Tuesday’s announcement is another symptom of our broader policy failure.

Although we are one of the most vulnerable developed nations to climate change, we will remain unwilling to find adequate solutions in our own interests. As a concert of nations go to Paris to capitalise on international momentum, Australia will sit on its own on the shoreline, trying desperately to push back the incoming tide.

Ian Dunlop is a fellow of the Centre for Policy Development and was formerly chairman of the Australian Coal Association and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is a member of the Club of Rome, and a director of Australia21.

Rob Sturrock is a CPD analyst and author of The Longest Conflict: Australia’s Climate Security Challenge.

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