‘Things could be so very different in this country of ours’
2 August 2021 at 5:31 pm
Given Australia’s natural renewable energy resources and the education and creativity of our people, we could be leaders in climate action, instead, the world has been left bewildered by the unwillingness of our politicians to act, writes David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
When you deeply love your own country, it can be difficult to accept criticism from the outside world. But as a coalition of the willing, composed of emissaries from other nations, come together to try and work out what to do about the problem of the Australian government’s dismal inaction on climate change, they should know that the vast majority of the people of this magnificent continent share their frustration and sadness.
An overwhelming majority of the Australian people want ambitious climate action now. Every one of our state and territory governments has set in place a net-zero emissions target. More than 100 local councils have declared a state of climate emergency. Australia’s four most trusted brands – Coles, Bunnings, Aldi and Woolworths – who directly employ around 400,000 Australians between them, have each declared they will only use electricity generated by renewable energy by 2025 or sooner, with the latter proudly spruiking their commitment on advertisements that aired during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
Truly, Australians are a decent people, being led to obscene consequences by an indecent national leadership in thrall to the Fossil Fuel Order.
In the shamelessness of Minister Sussan Ley’s lobbying to keep the Great Barrier Reef off UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list, our government reached a new low.
Now news has broken that – so concerned is the world becoming at the Australian government’s obstructive behaviour – a group of ambassadors, high commissioners and deputy heads of mission from nations including the UK, the USA, Canada and member states of the EU, have been meeting regularly to try to work out how to get Australia to do better.
Having watched 35 million hectares of Australia burn in the 2019-20 fires and half of the coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef vanish, the world is bewildered by the unwillingness of Australia’s politicians to safeguard the best interests of the Australian people or our beautiful country.
Our national political leadership should be leading and inspiring the necessary transformation – but instead, this is left to the clean energy rebellion; that massive informal coalition of committed citizens, communities, campaigners, investors, businesses and institutions who are determined to engineer the change, despite the lack of federal political backing.
Australia’s governments continue to subsidise and expand the digging up of coal, oil and gas that are driving the climate emergency. Our national climate plan is effectively non-existent: there is no national net-zero target and no credible emissions reduction mechanism. Yet Australia makes a vast contribution to global carbon pollution: as the largest exporter of coal, one of the largest exporters of gas, the largest per capita producer of domestic emissions in the OECD world, and the fifth-largest producer of all fossil fuel emissions combined. Our current climate commitments are consistent with an utterly catastrophic five degrees of global warming. We are the only developed country in the world to feature in the top 10 nations for deforestation and our foreign aid remains at the lowest percentage level ever – well below the United Nations target for official development assistance of 0.7 per cent of a nation’s income. Across Australia, nature is in very deep trouble, with 19 of our precious and beautiful ecosystems facing collapse without urgent action.
Despite all of this, our prime minister travels the world saying things that other nations know are not true. He’s like a small child with his head under a blanket who thinks that because he chooses to be in the dark, he therefore cannot be seen. As United States climate envoy John Kerry has said, our government is just not on the same page as the US administration, nor many others around the world.
Our national government has no plan for our future. As The Saturday Paper revealed last weekend, projections of what is most likely to happen are literally being hidden from us by our own leaders:
“As you read through the latest intergenerational report, the section on climate change stands out for the simple reason that it contains no projections. The numbers exist, just as they do for population growth and productivity, but they are not included. The Saturday Paper understands Treasury was pressured by the Morrison government to leave them out.”
It seems that there’s no plan to face the truth, just to try and keep things hidden; and to double down on the lies.
It is a plan with no escape route, and everything to lose. As Professor Ross Garnaut said 12 years ago apropos of responding to climate change, “Australia has a stronger interest in that than any other developed country because we are the most vulnerable of all developed countries.”
Given Australia’s incredible natural renewable energy resources and the education and creativity of our people, we could be showing leadership – as we once did, for example, on the establishment of a minimum wage, on women’s suffrage, and in the conservation of Antarctica.
Things could be so very different in this country of ours: and the task ahead of us is to make it so.