Sunday 15 May 2022

Is Labor’s Climate Change Plan Guided by Science?

Just as I was finishing the previous post, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese fronted a presser from Fitzroy Island (Friday 13th). In a major break with what we had observed during this campaign, he announced a number of measures supposedly meant to deal with climate change, plus a $220 million program to save endangered native species.

The main announcement, however, was a “Reef 2050 Plan” to save the Great Barrier Reef, by means of improving water quality and eradicating crown-of-thorns starfish.

That’s all good and well. As things are, the Great Barrier Reef is already in serious danger.

90%+ of reefs surveyed affected by coral bleaching in 2022. Source.

However, Labor’s adoption of Minister for Environment Sussan Ley’s habit of lobbying before UNESCO to keep the GBR heritage status, in spite of scientific considerations is troublesome. Sorry, Albo, no amount of lobbying will fix what we see in that map.

But wait, there’s more. Albanese also went to great lengths to emphasise that his Powering Australia plan not only was guided by science, but also marked the outer limit of Labor’s ambitions on climate change (Penny Wong, in her debate with Marise Payne at the National Press Club the same day pretty much repeated that).

Believe it or not, he isn’t
an Aussie politician. [A]

On Sunday, David Speers asked him:
On climate change. You said you would listen to the science. If the scientists tell you, you need to go further than your 2030 target of 43%. Will you?
Albanese: “What we haven’t done is come up with a figure and work out how to get there. What we’ve come up with is good policy, supporting renewables, using the safeguard mechanism established by Tony Abbott, supporting incentives to electric vehicles by reducing taxes, working with industry.” blah-blah-blah.
All that may be true. But it neither answers Speers’ question nor makes Labor’s plan sufficient.

The same day Speers asked Josh Fraudenberg:
Let’s turn to another area where the Prime Minister refuses to change and that is on the 2030 climate target. The Government is ticking with Tony Abbott’s 26-28% by 2030 emissions target. Every state and territory has a more ambitious target, the business community, every comparable country … why won’t you change the 2030 target?
Fraudenberg: “Well, we have a target, it’s called net zero by 2050”. blah-blah-blah.
Either that is a verbal version of the cups and ball trick or Aussie pollies suffer from a cognitive deficiency rendering then incapable of understanding simple, English language questions. You be the judge.

For the record: it is true that Labor’s plan is much better than the COALition’s non-existing plan.

But it’s false that Labor is following the science.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 – of which Australia is a signatory – was to make efforts to limit average global temperature increases to well below 2ºC, preferably no more than 1.5ºC. But Labor’s plan is consistent with an increase just shy of 2ºC (see my previous post).

The irony was, no doubt, lost to Albanese who went to Fitzroy Island to announce he was going to save the GBR. Instead, he is signing its death sentence. It is true that water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish are threats to the GBR, but the biggest threat is warming.
According to the State of the Environment Report 2020 (Queensland Government):
Warming of 2 degrees Celsius would result in a completely new climate regime under which many ecosystems would undergo irreversible change. The extent to which the climate will change in coming decades depends on current and future greenhouse gas emissions.
Two groups of species and habitats are particularly affected:

Extract from State of the Environment
Report 2020 infographic. Source

And the thing is that the QLD Government is slightly more upbeat than the IPCC “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” report:
[M]ultiple lines of evidence indicate that the majority (70–90%) of warm water (tropical) coral reefs that exist today will disappear even if global warming is constrained to 1.5°C (very high confidence).
It was with that in mind that at COP26 the IPCC required average global intermediate GHG emissions reductions of 50% to make it moderately likely that global warming lies within the 1.5ºC to 2ºC range. Labor’s GHG emissions reductions targets are 43%.

If the rest of the planet adopted Labor’s 2030 targets, we can kiss goodbye to 1.5ºC and to the Great Barrier Reef. But that’s not all. The new normal will look a lot like those headlines I presented last time. That’s not an alarmist prediction, quite to the contrary.

On top of that, as far as I know, most of the rest of the planet are doing even less than that.

That’s not, however, an argument for Australia and the other rich countries to not do more. Rather is an argument to double down in our efforts, for one, to try to make up for the effort other countries, particularly poor ones, are not making; for another to be in a position to demand they do more.

It’s in part a matter of leading by example, but there’s more than moral authority involved: rich countries have plenty means to exercise political, economic, and diplomatic influence. It may be a long shot, but it’s what we have.

What’s certain is that if Australia and other modern, wealthy countries, having the means they have, refuse to make the effort (or, if attempting, they fail) the rest of the world will not do the heavy lifting for us.

If you want to call that “climate justice”, go ahead. I call that enlightened self-interest or even survival.

Among the COALition, Labor and the Greens, only the Greens are ambitious enough. The teal independents are more ambitious than Labor, but I really don’t know how trustworthy they are.

At any event, if Labor wins – as it looks increasingly likely – they’ll have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into more decisive action on climate change.

Image Credits:
[A] “Johnny Fox performing at Maryland Renaissance Festival”. Source: WikiMedia. Author: Jarekt. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Nobody endorses me or the use I make of this file.

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