I needed to write this column really quickly, otherwise we might have had a new prime minister before I’d finished, and the climate policy we don’t have might have changed several times.
I gave myself 30 minutes because that reflects the fickle care and short-termism that has been afforded climate change in Australia in recent years.
When I say we don’t have a climate policy, that is the literal truth.
On Monday the prime minister (goes to check Twitter … he’s just survived a leadership challenge), Malcolm Turnbull, removed the emissions targets – already too low – from his national energy guarantee.
Three years ago, Australia placed its national target to cut emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 into the global Paris agreement.
Everyone, including those responsible for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, knows the targets offered up by Australia and other countries are too low to reach the goal of keeping global warming “well below 2C” – a guardrail which, many scientists now believe, was itself inadequate.
You can ask all those suffering worsening droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels whether they think things are going to get cheerier as the 1C of warming we’ve already had starts to feed back on to itself with the help of increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Outside the United States you will struggle to find any major industry association or company – including the World Coal Association – that disagrees with the Paris deal.
In Australia, all the major big business groups, from the Australian Industry Group to the Business Council of Australia to the coal-boosters at the Minerals Council of Australia, thought the Neg was a good idea. They also back Australia’s Paris targets.
What might this tell you about the Neg and its ability to move Australia away from business-as-usual to the kind of policy that would be grounded in the reality of the risks – both economic and physical – that climate change represents? It tells you that the “policy” was never about climate change.
What does it tell you about the emissions targets? It tells you that they were inadequate when it came to causing many of those big interests to invest in real change – to start to rethink their business plans to fit into a decarbonising world. Better to lobby for the status quo.
At the heart of all of this – the putrid rotten core that’s undermined all previous attempts to pull Australia and the world out of its spiral of climate impacts – has been a denial of the science of climate change.
That rejection by some right-wingers of a falsely perceived “leftist” cause of climate change has fed the policy uncertainty. Too many politicians have stood by and allowed that denial to fester.
It’s given us phrases such as “technology neutral” and “energy poverty” when what we needed to hear were phrases such as “climate leadership” and “public safety”.
Can the Australian voting public and any fair-minded politician seriously allow the country’s energy and climate “policy” to be dictated by a core led by Tony Abbott – who rejects the science that’s backed by every major scientific institution in the world?
No matter how many winks and screams you get from the conservative commentators, right-wing shock jocks and the alt-right, this is where we are at. Hostage to a groupthink that’s divorced from reality. Some people need to grow a backbone.
That’s my 30 minutes. Time’s up.