Is the current Coalition government capable of avoiding a climate disaster in Australia?

2021 has seen the Liberal-National Coalition called upon by climate activists to do better, so what has our government actually done in regard to Australia’s climate health? Marco Krantis assesses. (Pictured: Coalition government leaders in both state and federal sectors, Stephen Marshall and Scott Morrison. Edited: Marco Krantis).

By Marco Krantis I @KrantisMarco

Recently, at the G7 Summit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not proactive in his discussion on global warming, instead focusing on Australia’s ongoing tensions with China, being the only leader not prioritising climate change.

So, with his recent inaction putting him under even more copious criticism, it begs the question: Can we trust ScoMo to make the right decisions on Australia’s climate health? Let’s investigate.

Using clever tactics to meet margins

Australian governments in the past have certainly not been an example of radical climate change, with former leaders implementing questionable tactics to meet emission targets, which remains in place today.

During a speech to the UN, defending Australia’s climate stance earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that “by 2020, Australia will have overachieved on our Kyoto commitments, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 367 million tonnes more than required…”

The “Kyoto Protocol” was adopted in 1997 before coming into effect on 16 February 2005. The protocol commits industrialised countries and economies to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on individually agreed targets. There are currently 192 parties to the protocol.

Yet, Australia’s Kyoto agreement features included emissions produced from clearing forests, with no other country adopting similar accosts.

If Australia were to cut just deforestation from their yearly emission totals, they would be well under their Kyoto targets. Queensland enacted new land-clearing laws shortly after the Kyoto agreement was signed. This would see the countries emissions total fall under the Kyoto agreement without additional policies required.

If a deforestation clause was not included in the 1990 baseline, Australia’s emissions in 2017 were 31.8 per cent above the 1990 levels.

Ongoing tactics to let Kyoto credits linger

The Australian government has continued to state its Kyoto surplus credits will be transferred to the Paris Accord, something experts say no other nations have attempted to use, questioning whether it is legal.

The transfer of credits will see Australia meet the Paris Accord’s target despite emissions indicating otherwise.

The only way for Australia to meet the Paris Agreement standards is through the transfer of credits from the Kyoto agreement. Otherwise, the Coalition government would need to immediately roadmap a 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, sticking to the guidelines they agreed upon in the ” target=”_blank”>process.

All talk, no plan

Morrison’s visit to the G7 Summit was met with criticism, with climate enthusiasts calling for Australia to do more on their climate stance, aligning with his peer’s pursuit in reducing emissions. Yet, climate hopefuls were left disappointed as the Prime Minister deemed carbon tariffs — in any form — against Australia’s national interest.

Despite this refusal on desired climate action, Scott Morrison did recently signal his hope that Australia achieves net zero emissions by 2050 to the National Press Club in February this year. No plan or clear policy accompanied this statement.

However, this hopeful statement is contradicted by the Federal and Western Australian Government’s actions in 2020, when they proposed two production licenses for the Scarborough offshore gas project, a key part of the Burrup Hub Vision

The project is waiting for Woodside Petroleum to sanction it before the end of 2021, but if it were to be approved the operation would produce 16mt of CO2 every year into the atmosphere. A recent report by the Conservation Council of Western Australia and The Australia Institute also found that the planned gas field will — over its lifetime — produce the equivalent of 15 new coal-fired power plants.

2019 also saw Australia place more emphasis on their coal industry, approving a controversial coal mine by Adani in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, with the company calling it “one of the biggest in the world”. Adani has pledged to produce 27.5 million tonnes of coal annually, amassing 101,250 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

To make matters worse, an international think tank rated Australia’s climate policy the worst out of 57 countries in late 2019.

Since then, the Labor and the Greens have vetoed government plans to invest taxpayer money in fossil fuel technologies in the Senate.

In response to the opposition, current Energy Minister and a part of Morrison’s cabinet, Angus Taylor, insisted that the funds would have gone towards new technology, not further coal projects.    

On a state level in South Australia, the opposition has been much of the same, with Stephen Marshall’s Liberal Government coming under fire for headlining his election campaign with a $662.5 million, 15,000-seat arena on the Riverbank.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas has vowed to scrap the idea if he were voted into office, with the Member for Croydon looking to prioritise rejuvenating the state health system and building a 200 megawatt (MW) hydrogen power plant costing $590 million.

Black summers dark legacy on Australia’s climate history

During Australia’s notorious “Black Summer”, former Australian fire chiefs said before the Australian bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020, the fire chiefs attempted to meet Morrison. They said they “knew that a bushfire crisis was coming” but were locked out of discussions.

The bushfires also drew criticism from climate experts, who said they were left shocked after the final parliamentary sitting week for the year, during the bushfires, was focused on other issues such as the repeal of medevac laws and restructuring of the public service.

While half the country was up in flames, Mr Morrison also said no evidence links carbon emissions to bushfires, despite evidence to the contrary.

The Liberal-led government did increase funding to the country’s aerial firefighting capacity, something that was requested of them 18 months prior.

Finally, to defend his government’s actions during the bushfires, Morrison added fuel to the fire, claiming that Australia did not need to do more to tackle the country’s climate crisis.

Morrison’s less than proactive approach left the government two billion dollars out of pocket due to the National Bushfire Recovery Fund.

Small scale positivity

Despite its scrutiny, the Coalition Government has implemented some positive climate policies, such as the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The fund encourages Australian businesses to cut greenhouse case emissions and implement carbon-storing activities.

Along with this, they have also implemented the $3.5 billion investment in the form of the Climate Solutions Package, which partly involves the development of a national strategy for electric vehicles.

Based on the evidence above, it’s fair to conclude that the current coalition government has not demonstrated they have what it takes to help Australia’s climate.

Rather, they have implemented policies that will have a sustained negative impact on Australia’s climate health.

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