Australia’s climate policy is a mix of delusion and denial. We need to get real | Greg Jericho

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Right now the government is utterly hamstrung on the issue of climate change. After more than a decade of obstruction and doing the least possible, the rest of the world is changing fast and the debate in Australia needs to get real.

As Katharine Murphy put it so well on Tuesday, the government has no real climate change policy to speak of, but they do have a hell of a lot of fighting over pretending that there is.

Which is more abysmal – the farcical electric vehicles discussion paper that does not seek to reduce emissions, or the deputy prime minister suggesting agriculture be “carved out” from any net zero target that does not actually exist?

It is all a symptom of treating climate change as an issue that should be put off until later.

To be honest, even the ALP is susceptible to this when it remains unwilling to commit to cutting emissions by 2030, out of a (probably correct) belief that any such target will be politically damaging.

As I noted last week, pushing things off till later will not only require more drastic cuts, but that we will also quickly reach points where any cuts will not be enough to prevent temperatures from rising above either 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels.

And with the EU now exploring a carbon border tax, all those years of refusing to act and obstructing action to notionally protect our economy are about to cause a massive economic shock.

Reducing that shock is going to need more than just suggesting we need to switch to wind and solar electric power.

In late 2019, I suggested that politicians needed to start being honest about the difficulty of reducing emissions.

I got some criticism from people within the ALP that such an approach is a good way to lose elections. And perhaps that is correct. But I am rather unwilling to support something inadequate merely because it is slightly less so than that proposed by the Coalition.

Inadequate policy is not what is needed even in the best of times, and climate change right now is fast becoming the worst of times.

The cost of climate change clearly and vastly outweighs the costs of reducing emissions, but that doesn’t mean doing so is easy.

Alas the debate remains still one where politicians would have us believe we can achieve net zero by just doing the easy things – or that some sectors can be excused.

The problem is all we have done thus far are the trouble-free things and have excused far too many.

Consider that if Scott Morrison came out today and said from 2023 onwards (to give the sector a bit of time to prepare) we will target zero electricity emissions by 2045.

That would be excellent, but even though electricity is our biggest generator of emissions, reducing only that to zero would still have Australia emitting 388Gt C02 in 2045:

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The problem is that while electricity accounts for a third of all emissions, that still leaves two-thirds:

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Over the past decade, most focus at policy level has been on reducing electricity emissions, and as a result, emissions from other sectors have remained mostly flat or growing:

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The latest government projections have only electricity emissions falling by 2030, while the stationary energy, transport and agriculture sectors will increase emissions.

The transport, agriculture and stationary energy (which is, for example, the emissions produced in manufacturing and construction) sectors are expected to grow from a combined 263Gt C02 in 2020 to 277Gt C02 in 2030 – a 5% increase in the next decade and some 13% above the 2005 levels.

In reality, they should be at least 50% below 2005 levels by then.

And this is what I mean by getting honest with people.

No one notices where your electricity comes from when you switch on a light, but people will notice having to change the way they drive or commute; businesses will notice having to think about the transport of goods via trucks, what they emit when they manufacture products that we all will still want, and farmers will certainly notice having to change what they farm and how they do it.

But the changes need to occur across all sectors – not least of because, as Peter Mailler pointed out, the agriculture industry will be the most directly affected by climate change (a fact only the National party seems unaware of) – but also because the longer we wait and the more exemptions we provide the harder the transition will be.

If we aim to stay within the carbon budget that limits temperature rises to 2C above pre-industrial levels, our current path means after 2030 we would need to cut the equivalent of 17% of our current emissions each year – something we haven’t been able to do in the 15 years since 2005:

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Right now climate policy is a mix of delusion and denial – a hope that low-hanging fruit is all that needs to be picked, and that we can put off everything else till later.

That needs to end now. Our economy and emissions are more than just electricity – and political parties that care about people’s lives should be doing all they can to help us all make the changes that need to be done.


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