By Celine Lai
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash – Union Square, San Francisco 2019
The new U.S. Biden administration has sent a strong message to the world, by prioritising climate action. Australia can learn from a government who is responding to concerned citizens and to the climate scientists.
Ocean Conservancy says that in 100 days some pretty incredible things can happen in our ocean. Some Emperor Penguins will go without eating for up to 100 days while they keep their eggs warm and safe. Whilst feeding, a blue whale can eat up to 800,000 pounds of krill in 100 days.
Some of the climate change actions taken by the Biden administration, within its first 100 days of office, as provided by the Ocean Conservancy, are listed below.
1. Commitment to reducing greenhouse gases under the Paris Agreement
On January 20, 2021, day one of the Biden administration, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to reduce its emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Specific measures include:
- The decarbonisation of the shipping industry
- Scaling up renewable energy such as offshore wind, and
- Protecting and utilising natural climate solutions such as wetlands, marshes and mangroves
On January 27, 2021, the Biden administration released an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The Executive Order directs the Department of Interior to increase renewable energy production, including the doubling of offshore wind energy by 2030.
2. Climate action to be centred around social justice
Ocean Conservancy states that the Executive Order also acknowledged that climate action must be centred around social justice and address the disproportionate impacts of global warming on low-income communities.
‘Now, with the new Executive Order, every agency across the federal government of the U.S.A. is tasked with developing programs, policies and activities to address and work toward environmental justice initiatives.’
3. Federal oil and gas program to be reviewed, with public input
Under the Executive Order, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the launch of a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program, including a review of offshore oil and gas activities.
The Department of the Interior implements laws, regulations and policies that determine whether, and under what conditions, companies can extract fossil fuels from public lands and waters, including areas of the ocean open for offshore drilling. Fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
The comprehensive review process included the hosting of a “virtual forum” on March 25th, during which a variety of invited stakeholders shared their perspectives. The review process will also include outreach to Congress, Governors, Tribes, and other state and local elected leaders. Furthermore, members of the US public are also able to submit written comments.
In contrast, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has not yet committed to net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Nor has the Western Australian Premier, Mark McGowan.
The culture of nepotism (the practice amongst those, with power or influence, of favouring relatives, friends or supporters) may, sadly, be a trademark of some decisions across the different levels of government in Australia.
On April 27th, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported that:
“Australia will have to significantly ramp up its carbon emission reductions if it wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050, according to energy experts. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given in-principle support to net carbon emissions by the middle of the century – a commitment made by a raft of other countries including Britain and the United States – the Coalition government has so far stopped short of formally signing up to the pledge ahead of international climate talks later this year.”
According to the AFR article, Morrison is attempting to navigate a balancing act between appeasing the global community that wants Australia to take more action on climate change, and averting a revolt among National Party MPs who believe coal still has a strong role to play in the nation’s energy mix.
According to the AFR, the Australian Federal Government has promised to reduce its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, by “using technology”. AFR says:
‘Rather than forcing big polluters to cut their carbon emissions to reach targets, the Morrison government is hoping technology can help reach those goals.’
But the Grattan Energy Programme Director, Tony Wood, says:
‘No doubt Australia could reach the 2030 emissions reduction target, with an average abatement of about 3.5 million tonnes required each year to the end of the decade.
But if you draw a line from 2030 to 2050, Australia would need to increase its emissions reduction at the rate of about 24 million tonnes a year every year to reach the end goal.’
Tony Wood (link above) says that other modelling showed Australia would need to increase its carbon emissions reduction to 45 per cent by 2030 to reach net zero emissions by about 2045.
Australia’s woeful performance at the April 2021 Climate Summit
Australia has shown its hand as a pariah at the April 22nd virtual Climate Summit convened by President Joe Biden. The United States and other countries (except Australia) announced ambitious new climate targets, ensuring that nations accounting for half of the world’s economy have now committed to the emission reductions needed globally to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5-degrees celsius within reach.
Reducing emissions by 28% by 2030 is a floor on Australia’s ambition, under Australia’s UN pledge of their National Determined Contribution (NDC). The Morrison government keeps spruiking the same tired old line about manufacturing (read gas and coal production) being an important lynch-pin for economic recovery.
Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister, has put the technology halo to bed, pointing out the obvious.
Of course, technology will take a part in reducing emissions, but the Australian Government’s Technology Roadmap is a set of intellectual ideas. Without a definite timeline of specific strategies and plans over the range of sectors impacted, the Technology Roadmap is a map to nowhere.
Australia’s target has remained the same since 2015, when the then environment minister Greg Hunt made the formal submission to the United Nation’s climate convention.
“The Guardian” Report
Labor’s climate spokesperson, Mark Butler, said in a statement to the Guardian: “Scott Morrison’s 26% emissions reduction target is completely inadequate and in line with more than 3C of warming.
The Guardian (link above) also states that Bill Hare, an international climate policy expert and chief executive at Climate Analytics, said when the Paris agreement was read as whole, it was clear that countries were expected to continually improve their pledges.
“This [ Australia not improving its commitment ] says Australia doesn’t take the need to increase ambition seriously. It is definitely against the spirit of the agreement.
The Guardian Australia asked the office of the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor, why newer targets were not included in Australia’s April 2021 submission. A spokesman for the minister said in a statement: “On a per capita or emissions intensity basis, Australia’s 2030 target is more ambitious than those adopted by France, Norway, Canada, Japan or South Korea.”
This is abject nonsense. What matters is that each region takes climate change seriously and that the key players put away their “toys”. The Australian government “leadership” should stop comparing who is “bigger”, and must commit, collaboratively, both within Australia and globally, to immediately effect large, rapid emissions reductions; while propelling Australia into a renewable-energy framework.
Mr Morrison and Mr Taylor, please stop and see clearly—-there’s more at stake than getting the votes of the National Party.
Everyone can take part in asking the Australian Government to heed the climate scientists who clearly show that massive reductions of GHGs are needed now.
Bushfires of 2019/2020
In the face of the fires of 2019/2020, the government’s lack of action on the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action’s plan and on the Bushfire Royal Commission’s recommendations is deafening.
These two bodies call for rapid and massive greenhouse gas reductions, significantly via a transition from ALL fossil fuels (including fossil gas) — along the lines of the Biden administration’s declarations.
In the meantime, the European Union has warned the Australian Federal Government that carbon taxes may be imposed upon Australia, unless it ramps up its emissions reductions target by November 2021.
United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties
The 26th COP, Conference of Parties, will be held in Glasgow in November 2021. The UN Climate Change Conference will aim to accelerate action toward the goals of the Paris Agreement.
At this conference, the Australian Government must not let its people down again.
If enough people speak out for:
- Australia’s increased reductions of greenhouse gases
- Fossil fuels to be phased out with just transitions, and
- Renewable energies to be phased in,
increasingly, Australian businesses, governments at all levels, and retail and energy companies, and other stakeholders, will listen.
And we are visualising that in 2022, we will also have a federal government that takes decisive action on climate in the best interests of everyone and our environment