Australia's head-in-the-sand climate position

October 8, 2015
Newtown rally against coal seam gas in 2011. Many of these campaigners want real action on climate change.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Paris between November 30 and December 11. By the time it starts, 2015 is almost certain to have beaten last year as the warmest year ever.

This August has now been confirmed as the hottest August since records began in 1880. Other months this year that broke records were February, March, May, June and July.

The August globally averaged sea surface temperature was 0.78°C above the 20th century average — the highest temperature for any month in the 1880-2015 period. The previous highest temperature was 0.04°C above the 20th century average, recorded in July.

This alarming trend has led scientists to conclude that it is 97% likely that 2015 will break all previous records according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Across the Atlantic in Britain, the Met Office has issued a new report that says the world's climate has reached a major tipping point and is set to deliver record breaking temperatures in both 2015 and 2016.

Will the scientific evidence make any difference to the politicians and financiers who will decide the future of the planet in Paris?

The signs are less than encouraging. It has been reported that negotiations on the text to be released following the Paris summit are almost complete. But the UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, has said that the targets for carbon emission cuts put forward by the 62 nations responsible for 70% of all emissions are not enough to keep global warming below 2°C.

According to the World Bank, over the next 15 years the global economy will require an estimated $89 trillion in infrastructure investments and more than $4 trillion in incremental investments for a low-carbon transition.

Rich countries have pledged $100 billion a year from 2020 for a Climate Fund to assist in this process. But there is a big difference between a pledge and a cash cheque — which the IMF and World Bank will find out at their meeting in October.

There is, in fact, a very simple way to raise a trillion dollars to fund low carbon initiatives over the next five years — stop spending $200 billion a year subsidising fossil fuels.

This is the amount that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates is being spent by its 34 member countries, plus China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa.

The report does indeed offer a roadmap — one that Australia could easily follow without needing to raise additional revenue. The annual $41 billion that we spend in public subsidies to the fossil fuel industry could be used to fully fund the plan from Beyond Zero Emissions to convert Australia's energy to 100% renewables in a decade, and still leave another $40 billion available for further climate mitigation initiatives.

Instead, foreign minister Julie Bishop will go to Paris with the pathetic proposition of reducing Australia's carbon emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030. This is despite the Climate Change Authority arguing for a 40-60% cut on 2000 levels by 2030.

The head-in-the-sand position that Australia will take to Paris goes beyond a national embarrassment. It will encourage countries such as India, Poland and Russia — all of whom have large reserves of coal — to take a similar stance. It already seems to have influenced the ruling Conservative Party in Britain, who have taken the axe to popular renewables policies adopted at the insistence of its former coalition partners the Liberal Democratic Party.

Australia's disingenuous Direct Action scheme will also allow the US and China to inflate the importance of their inadequate contribution.

Our climate is not the play thing of politicians and big business. This is why we need to make the rallies planned for Australia and around the globe in November the largest ever. It is only the mass protest of people that can force politicians to put the planet before private profit.

[People's Climate Marches will be held around Australia on the weekend of November 27 to 29, just before world leaders gather at the UN climate talks in Paris. Over that weekend, People's Climate Marches will take place in hundreds of major cities around the world, with the goal of creating the largest mobilisation the world has ever seen.]

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