The Climate Emergency

The next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, COP 25, will be held in Chile in December. In a prelude to COP 25, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, organised a Climate Action Summit in New York in September.

The Summit was attended by world leaders but not by Prime Minister Scott Morrison despite the fact that he was in USA at the time. Australia was represented at the Summit by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, but she did
not speak.

Antonio Guterres had asked countries to come with a more ambitious plan than that to which they had already committed. If they didn’t, they were requested not to speak. Hence, Marise Payne’s silence.

Griffith University’s Professor Ian Lowe said “Australia’s disinterest in the UN Climate Summit is, frankly, a national embarrassment. Our Government’s encouragement of new coal mines and expanded gas exports runs directly counter to the necessary global efforts.”

One of the speakers at the Summit was Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Greta gave an impassioned speech extorting world leaders to act on climate change. She said “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”

Greta’s role in bringing the Climate Emergency into greater focus internationally is to be applauded. As an independent teenager she is able to express her views in straightforward terms. On the other hand, official representatives are more likely to feel bound by diplomacy or engage in obfuscation and gobbledygook.

Prior to the Summit, the World Meteorological Organization released a report, The Global Climate in 2015–2019. Compared to the previous period 2011–2015, the current period 2015–2019 has recorded

  • continued increase in CO2 emissions
  • an accelerated increase in greenhouse gas emissions
  • increase in oceanic CO2 concentrations with increased ocean acidity
  • the warmest of any equivalent period on record globally with a 1.1℃ increase since pre-industrial period and a 0.2℃ increase compared to 2011–2015
  • an accelerated rising sea level
  • a continued decline in the Arctic sea-ice extent
  • an abrupt decrease in Antarctic sea ice
  • continued mass loss of glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets
  • the largest ocean heat content on record in 2018
  • heatwaves affecting all continents resulting in record temperatures for many countries
  • unprecedented wildfires.

The Australian Government remains unmoved by the science that is becoming increasingly worrying. Whereas Scott Morrison did not attend the Climate Action Summit he did address the UN General Assembly in New York and said “Australia is taking real action on climate change and getting results …. We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical
policies to secure our environmental and economic future.”

Clearly, Scott Morrison and his colleagues have not recognised the seriousness of the issue. As we reported in a previous post, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided evidence for the need to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and noted that this “would require rapid, farreaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”.

The IPCC concluded that to limit global warming to 1.5℃, it would be necessary to reduce emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050. A middle-of-theroad scenario requires a 75% reduction in coal use as the primary energy source by 2030 (IPPC Special Report (SR15), Summary for Policymakers, p. 14).

Australia needs to start planning for a phase-out of coal mining and coal use. But we are actually doing the opposite.

In a surprise move, Labor front-bencher Joel Fitzgibbon recently called for the party to adopt the Coalition’s climate policy. That means accepting an emissions reduction target of 26–28% by 2030 rather than the 45% target that Labor took to the last election. His argument is that Australians are “inherently conservative” and will continue to support the Coalition leaving Labor in Opposition for a further six years.

Fortunately, Fitzgibbon’s colleagues rejected his proposal. Labor joined the Greens and cross-bench members in a motion in the House of Representatives to declare a “climate emergency”. It was, of course, defeated.

Scott Morrison’s speech to the UN General Assembly was an exercise in cherry-picking. For example, he noted that emissions from Australia’s electricity sector had fallen 15.7% compared with the peak in 2009. That figure doesn’t even apply Australia-wide — just to the East Coast. Overall Australia’s emissions continue to increase. And according to The Climate Council, if you include our fossil-fuel exports, Australia is the fifth largest emitter in the world, after USA, China, EU and India.

Things need to change.

Keith Scott

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