The Politics    Monday, September 11, 2023

The heat is on

By Daniel James

G20 leaders including Anthony Albanese

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Türkiye President Recep Erdoğan, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Mexico’s Minister of Economy Raquel Buenrostro Sanchez at the G20 Summit, India, September 9, 2023. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

When it comes to the climate, leaders will only grasp that the writing is on the wall when the wall is burning

You may have missed it, so I will have to break it to you: the global climate collapse has begun. That was the message United Nations secretary-general António Guterres delivered to the Africa Climate Summit in Kenya last week. “The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting,” he told the conference. “Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record. Climate breakdown has begun. Scientists have long warned what our fossil fuel addiction will unleash.” The news was easy to miss because footy finals are on and it’s important to know who someone with black-and-white face paint outside the MCG thinks is going to win. I only learnt of the climate news while listening to a pre-game radio show. The 2pm news broadcast only mentioned it in passing.

With tragic climate-driven events occurring in the northern hemisphere, it raises the question: why isn’t the Australian media a little more concerned about our collective impending doom, and why the hell does the Australian government keep approving the opening of new coalmines?

According to The Australia Institute’s Coal Mine Tracker, four new coalmines have been approved by the federal environment minister since May last year. The government’s own 2023 Intergenerational Report warned that, “as temperature increases approach 2C, the risk of crossing thresholds which cause nonlinear tipping points in the Earth system, with potentially abrupt and not yet well understood impacts, also increases”. What has been long understood is the need to stop pumping emissions from fossil fuels into the atmosphere. It shows how far Australia has to go to flush the lobby groups such as the Minerals Council out of our system of governance. Just last weekend, coal addict and friend of billionaires on both coasts Barnaby Joyce was urging his party to abandon the net zero emissions by 2050 target from its policy platform, to no avail. Perhaps it’s a small sign that coal’s stranglehold on the parliament is beginning to ease. But chances are Barnaby will be back, even it means he has to topple yet another Nationals leader.

The Africa Climate Summit wasn’t the only meeting of international leaders last week. At the G20 summit, there was barely a mention of climate change or climate action. Leaders were instead fixated on geopolitical threats, real or imagined, and free-trade agreements – both issues play so much better to audiences back home. Sure, there was a resolution to push for a tripling of renewable energy capacity by 2030, but no specific policy or framework established to outline how that target will be achieved. Nor was any timeline given for a fossil fuel phase out. For a group of countries responsible for 80 per cent of global carbon emissions, it was a less than paltry commitment to addressing climate collapse.

Recent history tells us the politics of climate change in Australia only really bite when we experience its worst impacts. With experts predicting that the forthcoming fire season could be the worst since the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20, the necessity to actually do something to address climate change may finally be beyond the control of narrative merchants and spin doctors. Scott Morrison’s prime ministership never really recovered from his laissez-faire reaction to that terrible summer. Even renowned climate denialist but political realist John Howard was forced to go to the 2007 election with an emissions trading scheme policy after the millennium drought pounded the country for more than a decade.

Let’s hope that from now on every photo taken of a political leader consoling a “natural disaster” victim is combined with serious questions about what more Australia could do to address rising temperatures. Because, during the upcoming summer, it won’t be too soon to talk about climate change, it will be too late.

Daniel James

Daniel James is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He hosts the radio show The Mission on 3RRR FM.

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