Crisis and Opportunity – maybe this time?

“We look forward to a new year in which our nation finally unites, puts our collective shoulder to the wheel and works with all other nations in a friendly but determined race to net zero.”

These are my wishes recently expressed in a Christmas letter to my MP. They were written in the hope that the tide is about to turn – that the horrific drought, heatwaves and bushfires we are now experiencing would finally back our government against the wall. At this stage they are still holding out but how much longer can they hold the line, primarily for the benefit of a few fossil-fuel companies? We shall see.

The pressure on government to reduce emissions is greater than it has ever been; pressure from NGOs, striking students, other nations at the COP, farmers, firefighters and business is becoming overwhelming. The Carbon Market Institute’s latest survey of over 200 businesses shows that they are calling for more ambitious climate policy, net zero by 2050 and no more delay.

And now Christina Talacko, Chair of the Coalition for Conservation is decrying Australia’s climate change performance. She describes the work they are doing inside the coalition to engage, persuade and shift them forward.

The Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action is up and running and brings together an important group of MPs from all parties to consider.  We are reaching out to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, a US based organisation that was instrumental, with CCL help, in getting the Canadian carbon fee and dividend legislation adopted.

The finance industry continues to shift away from climate risk. Goldman Sachs has stopped funding new or expanding thermal coal mines and coal-fired power stations. Fossil fuel share value is dropping while clean energy shares are climbing. Leadership on climate is shifting globally from government to business.

So finally, there is an opportunity for a change of heart and a course correction by the coalition. Carbon Fee and Dividend, or UNSW’s Australian Carbon Dividend Plan may now be attractive enough for a government that knows it cannot continue to hide behind its fig leaf policies. It wouldn’t be a difficult policy for this government to sell to business or the electorate. The border adjustment part of the policy will be harder. Fortunately, the Canadian government has found an interim solution (Output Based Pricing System) which enabled it to legislate a carbon fee and dividend in 2017.

But we know that the fossil fuel industry continues to exert power and influence over government, media and even the Australian psyche. It will not give up until its appeal to our hip-pocket and its social license is almost used up.

Fortunately, that time is getting ever closer and CCL is well placed to offer an attractive policy that will meet the needs of all but the most die-hard ideologues. As 2019 ends with fire, crisis and looming tipping points in our climate system, 2020 offers some hope of a start to that friendly but determined race to net-zero.

Rod Mitchell is National Chair, Citizens Climate Lobby Australia