February 5, 2015

A year of reckoning

By David Ritter
A year of reckoning
Image by Eulinky (Flickr)
In 2015, our climate isolationism is untenable

After years of global inertia on climate issues, things began to move in late 2014. The US–China agreement – under which the US agreed to cut and China agreed to cap carbon pollution – while not sufficient in isolation, signalled that the world’s two largest emitters intend to secure an international deal in Paris this November. The US and China (along with the European Union) are pushing for countries to put their emissions reductions goals on the table so that negotiations can begin in earnest. The prospects of a global deal are the brightest they have been since Copenhagen in 2009.

Given Tony Abbott’s zigzagging fortunes and erratic behaviour, it is hard to predict how his government will respond to climate change this year. But the world is now acting and 2015 will reveal whether Abbott (assuming – and this is now a significant assumption – that his leadership survives that long) is capable of adjusting his strategy on global warming to the changed political landscape. Last December’s backflip – when Abbott agreed to making a modest contribution to the Green Climate Fund having previously condemned it as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” – suggests that further pragmatic shifts are possible.

The Australian government is now under international pressure to announce its 2015 targets. The Climate Change Authority, fulfilling its statutory obligation, had already advised the government on a (conservative) credible target. Abbott, however, chose to ignore that advice, instead establishing a taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to needlessly repeat the exercise, despite his oft-proclaimed aversion to “red tape”. That taskforce will report mid year, meaning Australia will be tardy: other countries will be announcing their targets in March. This means more embarrassment, more tarnishing of Australia’s global image and greater betrayal of future generations of Australians. Abbott’s recalcitrance is not just “blue” politics: UK Prime Minister David Cameron, one of Abbott’s closes allies, has already publicly urged Australia to commit to deep emissions cuts as soon as possible.

There are forces supportive of Abbott’s foot-dragging, of course. The main obstacle to tackling climate change has always been the fossil fuel industry. It is a contest not only played out in international negotiations, but everywhere that the fossil fuel industry is proposing irresponsible new projects. This is nowhere more obvious than on the Great Barrier Reef. In 2015, the reef will be the vivid setting for a showdown between those arch “climate makers” – the coal industry – and the rest of us. Coal is the single greatest driver of climate change and in 2015 Indian billionaire Gautam Adani proposes to build the world’s biggest coal port on the Great Barrier Reef coast, to export coal from his proposed new Carmichael mega-mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

If the Carmichael mine is constructed and the coal is burnt, the emissions from that will alone eclipse all promised emissions savings from Tony Abbott’s so-called ‘Direct Action’ policy. In order to construct Adani’s coal port – at a location coincidentally called Abbot Point – thousands of tonnes of seagrass will be dredged from the sea floor. The current plan is for the spoil to be dumped on the Caley Valley wetlands on the reef coast – although there may be at least a temporary reprieve if the ALP is able to form government in Queensland. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has already expressed its concern about this and other developments near the reef. In June this year, UNESCO will consider placing the reef on the World Heritage Property “in danger” list.

In his address to the G20 Leaders Summit last year, Tony Abbott said he would be “standing up for coal”. Coal prices continue to fall and the industry may well be in permanent structural decline, but Abbott remains loyal to the black stuff.

Some day soon Environment Minister Greg Hunt will make the decision on dredging and dumping on the reef coast. Hopes are not high that sanity will prevail, although Hunt – thinking of his own legacy – may not wish to approve dredging if no longer proposed by the Queensland government. If Abbott and Hunt do let down the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and the world, then once again it will be up to the Australian people to act to restrain a government gone awry. Tony Abbott is not the prime minister that future generations of Australians deserve.

David Ritter
David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific and a columnist for Global Policy. @David_Ritter

From the front page

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better

Image of the Kiama Blowhole, New South Wales

The edge of their seats

Lessons from Gilmore, Australia’s most marginal electorate

Image of Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

The future of the Liberal Party

Peter Dutton doesn’t just have a talent problem on his hands

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

Online exclusives

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime