‘Building a path to a liveable future would be easier with political leadership’
30 March 2022 at 12:59 pm
David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, reflects on the failure of the federal government to include any meaningful effort to respond to the intensifying climate crisis in the 2022 budget.
If there were any doubt, the 2022 federal budget has revealed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison as deeply callous, apparently incapable of morally serious or strategically wise action, in conditions of national emergency.
The budget contains no meaningful effort to respond to the intensifying climate crisis.
As Dr Joëlle Gergis, author of the essential Sunburnt Country: The future and history of climate change in Australia, writes in the current issue of The Monthly, “how much more scientific proof do we need to consider climate change an urgent threat to the stability of human society?”
As the budget was being handed down, torrential rain and flood waters were returning to NSW and Queensland for the second time in weeks. A sixth mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef – the fourth in six years – has just been confirmed. Antarctica – where Australia lays claim to significant territory – has just experienced a heatwave of 40 degrees celsius above normal, with freakish warm weather simultaneously striking the Arctic.
And so what do we see? The budget contains plans to actually reduce spending on reducing emissions in real terms, and precious little new on any meaningful environmental protection. Meanwhile, pre-budget analysis showed that government subsidies to fossil fuel interests – the coal, oil and gas corporations that are the primary drivers of global warming – will exceed $11.6 billion this financial year.
There are additional allocations for disaster relief and recovery in response to the floods – but nothing approaching the kind of systemic approach to adaptation that is urgently needed.
As a practising Christian and fan of middle-of-the-road music, Scott Morrison is presumably aware of the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colours, whether from the Book of Genesis or the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
Central to the story of Joseph’s rise to being Pharaoh’s right hand man were the former’s prophetic dreams, first of seven years of bounteous harvest, with the same to follow of bitter famine. Joseph counselled Pharaoh to make provision for the tough years ahead. The advice was followed – and ancient Egypt made it through.
Flash forward a couple of thousand years and the prime minister and treasurer of Australia do not have to rely on the providence of dreams. For literally decades a succession of governments have been urged to slash greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas; and to take practical measures to prepare the nation for climate change impacts.
The most recent warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC) published in February are the most stark yet. They include confirmation we are already facing severe climate impacts, with increasingly irreversible consequences. It is highly likely that average global temperature rise will exceed 1.5 degrees of global warming as soon as the mid-2030s. Whether we can respond to that overshoot and bring global temperatures back down again in as few years as possible, will depend entirely on the urgency and level of action taken to reduce emissions.
Scott Morrison and his team issued no formal response at all to the latest IPCC report. In contrast, UN Secretary-General António Guterres labelled the report an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”. Given that in 2021 Australia was ranked dead last out of 193 United Nations member countries on action taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (since which nothing of any substance has improved) it is hard to imagine a more egregious example of failure on this score than Scott Morrison.
Plainly, a responsible Australian government needs to move on to an emergency footing, with two clear objectives. The first is the rapid transition from coal, oil and gas to renewable energy backed by batteries within the decade. We also need a moratorium that precludes any new coal, gas or oil projects. We have all the policy and technical solutions for these things to happen – all that is lacking is federal political leadership.
The second is that we must heed the warnings of what is coming at us. A massive exercise is needed in readying the nation: environmental protection, retrofitting, building, financing, planting, engineering, institution-building, law-making, caring and financing for the public good, to get our country in the best possible shape for what is to come.
Most of all we need a national safety net approach, so that no Australian is left behind by severe damage – and all of us take a fair share in the opportunities created by the transition to an economy based on renewable energy.
Whoever wins the next federal election will not have the chance to govern in “normal times” because cascading climate damage is now inevitable. Thanks to the failure of our national political leaders, Australia is not ready for what is coming. But if there is one thing we know, it is that people working together can achieve anything. We can and must still build a path to a liveable future – but it would be a lot bloody easier with some half decent political leadership.