The Politics    Monday, July 4, 2022

In deep water

By Rachel Withers

Image of Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt in Brisbane, June 8, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt in Brisbane, June 8, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

As climate-fuelled flooding hits Australia again, the Greens are being urged to fall into line on an insufficient 2030 target

Parts of New South Wales are once again underwater, with the SES saying that this is expected to be worse than other recent floods. “Things are happening quicker,” the SES’s Ashley Sullivan told Nine, noting that the ground was already saturated from the last emergency. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has copped some criticism online for being out of the country during the disaster, the AFR notes, but it goes without saying that being in Europe for a NATO summit and to tour war-ravaged Ukraine is not the same as being on holiday in Hawaii. State and federal leaders have apparently been coordinating better than usual, with premier Dominic Perrottet saying it was “really pleasing” to see federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt on the ground. Watt, meanwhile, has been bolder than his predecessor in linking the event to climate change, saying that it warranted serious action. It’s a jarring time, then, for commentators to be calling for the Greens to fall into line on Labor’s 2030 emissions-reduction target – one that will not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, meaning that extreme weather events may only get worse.

Yes, here we are again, with the Greens being told to simply accept the 43 per cent target, which Labor needs the minor party to do in order to pass it through the Senate. Calls for the Greens to suck it up intensified over the weekend: “pragmatic” new senator David Pocock indicated that he would probably accept Labor’s target (despite wanting a more ambitious goal of 60 per cent), in order to see something legislated, while Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie and her newly elected colleague Tammy Tyrrell also showed openness to it, “ramping up pressure on the Greens to follow suit or risk being sidelined”, according to Nine. A strange consensus seems to be forming that Labor should not even try to negotiate with the Greens, and that the minor party, like Pocock, should just “take it” in this take-it-or-leave-it offer from Labor. Former Greens leader Christine Milne appeared deeply frustrated with this attitude on Twitter today; as did comedian Tom Ballard, who suggested that anyone arguing that the Greens “should just wave through” Labor’s 43 per cent target should have to explain why the Climate Council’s science-consistent targets should be ignored.

(Let’s not even get started on the fact that Resources Minister Madeleine King is currently celebrating “record” earnings for Australian coal and gas producers last year, with Renew Economy’s Michael Mazengarb noting that you can hardly tell the difference between her statement on the matter and her predecessor’s.)

By now, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the current flooding is evidence of climate change. As former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner turned Climate Councillor Greg Mullins told the BBC overnight, La Niña and El Niño are being intensified by climate change, leading to worsening floods and bushfires respectively. “On the east coast of Australia, we’ve had four major floods, each of which have exceeded previous records, and it’s frightening,” he said. Mullins recently met with Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, who promised that Labor was listening, and Bowen has, admittedly, talked the talk on the need for more renewables throughout the recent energy crisis. But it’s curious that the increased focus on renewable energy that we have seen over the past few weeks hasn’t been matched with a renewed sense of ambition on emissions, on more urgently limiting the thing that is causing these worsening disasters.

That, at the end of the day, is why the Greens are pushing for a higher target, and why several members of Blockade Australia got themselves arrested last week despite the threat of unprecedented penalties. This is about more than just mere politics, and it’s certainly not about who was wrong back in 2009, and who is stealing votes from whom. The Greens are seeking to use their balance of power in the Senate to improve a Labor target that, while seemingly calibrated to win an election, was designed for a different era, and which isn’t in line with what the science demands. Proponents have talked about Labor’s target being a “floor” rather than a “ceiling”. But, as today’s emergency reminds us, many people will no longer have either floors or ceilings if the world – including Australia – doesn’t start to act with far greater urgency. It is, after all, an emergency. And Australia is becoming far too used to those.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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