Photo c/o Matthew Abbott for The New York Times
Jenny Goldie, CCL member from Cooma NSW, in the Eden-Monaro electorate, sums up her views and news on Australia’s week in climate change action*
The day after writing the last bulletin comparing climate policies of candidates in the coming by-election for Eden-Monaro, I was told that Liberal Fiona Kotvojs had made a statement while campaigning with the Prime Minister on Sunday. In contrast to her views at the federal election campaign last year, this time she has said that she believes “the climate is changing”, and that “humans are contributing to a changing climate”. In response, the focus should be on “reducing emissions, improving adaptation and also the resilience of communities”. (So far so good). She says, however, that approaches to climate change “need to ensure they don’t adversely affect the economy, increase power prices or reduce reliability”. And while Kotvojs says that humans are “a factor” in a changing climate, she adds that there are other factors and it would be a mistake to deal with one exclusively. (Not good).
I duly apologise for misrepresenting her current views in last bulletin. Nevertheless, with the climate crisis bearing down on us, we can no longer pussyfoot around the issue. We need rapid and comprehensive emissions reduction. Such a reduction will require a massive technical and societal transformation that may well disrupt the economy, just as Covid-19 has. All candidates need to be reminded that last year was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record and the second hottest year globally, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2005.
I gather the Nationals are now intending to stand a candidate and the Greens will announce theirs tomorrow. CAM is working with both the Nature Conservation Council and Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action to formulate a questionnaire and come up with a scorecard. The election will be 4 July. Candidates can nominate up to June 10.
And of course, one manifestation of the changing climate is increased severity and extent of bushfires as we experienced over summer. This week, the bushfires royal commission began its hearings. Dr Karl Braganza of the Bureau of Meteorology testified that the fires season is starting three months earlier in much of south-eastern Australia, that is, the beginning of spring rather than the start of summer as in the 1950s. Other speakers who followed warned of the increasing threats of climate change – not just bushfires but rising sea-levels, cyclones striking further south, worse storms and floods, and many more days of extreme heat.
Greg Mullins, who had a 39-year career in NSW Fire and Rescue, and was commissioner from 2003 to 2017, represented Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) at a Senate Inquiry into the bushfires, also this week. He said he had “deep concerns over climate change” which was fuelling “unprecedented” bushfires. In its submission to the Royal Commission, ELCA said the evidence was irrefutable that climate change caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas “super-charged” the 2019-20 bushfire season. “It is not possible to ‘adapt’ to such catastrophic conditions and they can only be partially mitigated,” ELCA said.
The economic costs of climate change are huge. Rob Henderson, former chief economist at NAB and Dresdner Bank, says they will be even worse than Covid-19 if we go to 2 degrees warming. (See his article below).
The costs of the bushfires go way beyond the economic of course, not least, we lost a billion animals. This rainforest webinar run by Nature Conservation Council promises to be worthwhile. Flames in the rainforest: bushfire impacts and restoration in NSW. Tuesday, 2 June, 11am-12pm (AEST). Online via Zoom. You can register here.
And here’s another webinar for the next day (10am Wednesday) run by the Clean Energy Council on ‘The next clean energy boom’. You can register here.
There was some good news in that Australia’s emissions fell in 2019 by 0.9 per cent compared to 2018 thanks to renewable energy plants coming on line, but also because the drought limited farming output. Unfortunately these gains were almost wiped out by increased pollution from big industrial sites, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants off the country’s north coast. According to revised data, emissions have fallen under the Coalition government by 1.5 per cent since they were elected in 2013, but this has to be compared with the fall under Labor of 14 per cent (thank you carbon tax). And under the Paris Agreement, of course, emissions have to fall by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. (Energy Minister Angus Taylor thinks more ambitious targets would not be “good policy”). The more the government favours gas over renewables, the harder it will be to achieve even these uninspiring targets.
Globally, the graph is still going up unfortunately with carbon dioxide levels on 23 May at 416.97 ppm, up 2.25 ppm the same time last year, and up 23ppm in ten years. (The pre-industrial base as 280ppm and the safe level deemed 350ppm.) Because of Covid-19, the international talks on climate (COP-26) which were to have taken place in Glasgow in November, have been delayed a whole year to the following November. This is not good news, though perhaps unavoidable in the circumstances.
Fortunately, as an alternative to the government’s gas-recovery plan, the splendid climate change thinktank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) has come up with a blueprint for rapidly expanding renewable energy over the next five years. It would see Australia become a home for zero-emissions industries, cut electricity costs and create more than 100,000 jobs in the electricity industry alone. (Let’s hope all by-election candidates read it.)
Energy and climate change go hand-in-hand so tune in on Monday for ABC-TV’s Q&A where National and former Resource Minister Matt Canavan and Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon will be set against the impressive Independent Zali Steggall and others to discuss ‘Australia’s Energy Future’. You can ask a question in advance here. No-one from the renewable energy industry has been invited, however, let alone BZE.
And here is this week’s petition to sign. Join School-Strike-for-Climate in calling on the House of Representatives for a Green Recovery Plan. You can sign the open letter here.
Week after next, the Climate Change Institute is having the first of its COVID-19 and Climate Change: Parallels and disconnects webinars, at 12pm Thursday 11 June with Prof Mark Howden. You can register here.
All the best, Jenny
President, CAM. Member of CCL Aust (Eden-Monaro)
Other news highlights
Renewables technology already exists, it’s getting cheaper and we will never go to war over sunshine. If you need to be convinced of the potential of wind and solar, read this
Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has said that the Morrison government had no interest in setting ambitious climate change targets, but would rather set targets the government knew it was already able to meet.
Hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money has been, and is going to be spent, on necessary fiscal measures before this pandemic is over. But poorly targeted spending will do damage to the economy, increase unemployment and prolong the recession.
America’s tumbling coal power consumption was surpassed by renewable energy in 2019, and wind power overtook hydro as the US biggest renewable power source.
It will not do to wait until the next power plant announces its closure. Building alternative infrastructure should start now
The Australian Energy Council, the Energy Efficiency Council and the Property Council of Australia are among fifteen major organisations from multiple sectors calling for investment in renewables in economic recovery measures to help build a stronger, cleaner post-pandemic Australia.
The ‘Technology investment roadmap’ is not about the presence of technology. It is about the absence of consequences.
The critically endangered prehistoric Wollemi Pines — whose location is a closely-guarded secret — suffered minor damage from last season’s fires but escaped major destruction.
Bold reform needed to prevent even bigger economic blow Rob Henderson
Reforms are the best way for Australia to emerge from a once-in-a-century crisis, and energy policy should be top of the agenda.
The government is like a smoker switching to low-tar cigarettes. Its energy policy is just a sop.