A new report from The Australia Institute (TAI) has found that popular support for meaningful climate action has increased in the last 12 months.
TAI’s Climate and Energy Director Richie Merzian said: “Our research shows that far from dampening the call for climate action, the COVID-19 crisis has strengthened Australians’ resolve for all levels of government to take action on climate change.”
Eight in ten Australians (82%) are “concerned that climate change will result in more bushfires”, 83% want coal-fired power stations “to be phased out” and the majority (59%) prefer investment in renewables over fossil fuels, including gas.
Yet, in the lead up to the Queensland election, the Liberal National Party has been threatening to scrap Queensland’s 2030 climate targets if they are elected.
Labor’s federal leader Anthony Albanese is also indicating that his party will abandon the 2030 targets it took to the last election.
Shadow resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon has previously claimed that 2030 targets are now “irrelevant”!
In fact, the opposite is true.
Mid-century targets are virtually meaningless because, currently, MPs and governments cannot be held accountable for breaching them.
Action to reduce emissions is needed now — not in 30 years!
“Scientists tell us that what we do right now, and in the next few years, is what really matters,” said David Spratt in Climate Code Red.
The reality is that for more than 30 years, the record of official government climate policy shows it has been delaying action and pushing back timelines.
Divisions in the federal Labor Party over climate policy are well known. There are also differences within the Coalition. (The differences between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison are another reflection of this.)
Even the big capital is split. On October 7, BHP and Origin Energy suspended their membership in the Queensland Resources Council over the latter’s decision to campaign hard against the Greens.
All these tensions are a reflection of a real and insoluble contradiction faced by the ruling class.
On the one hand, climate change is not only real, it is serious: people are increasingly concerned and want action, as the TAI survey reaffirms.
On the other, the 100 corporations responsible for 71% of global emissions have literally tens of billions of dollars invested in the industry. The dynamics of the capitalist system make it imperative for those companies to try to realise maximum profits on those investments.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that the survival of human civilisation is a lower priority for these bloodsuckers.
The fossil-fuel mafia are a major component of the ruling class, so both capitalist parties of government defend their interests.
This is the contradiction that leads to Labor walking both sides of the street.
In the Queensland elections, Labor is promoting a policy to develop renewable energy in Brisbane. In north Queensland, it is promoting its support for the opening of many new coal mines.
While the Annastacia Palaszczuk Labor government is supposedly aiming for 50% renewable energy by 2030, it is “well short” of meeting this goal. In fact, the goal is woefully inadequate: by comparison, South Australia is aiming for 100% over the same period.
But, whether they meet it, or not, is kind of a side show to the real issue: coal and gas exports.
“Queensland exported around 226 million tonnes of coal last year,” Greens councillor Jonathan Sri pointed out on October 20. “In contrast, Queensland’s domestic consumption of coal is only around 25 million tonnes per year.”
In July, Australia also overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied gas — around 80 million tonnes per year — according to the Climate Council.
Viewed this way, it is clear that Labor’s talking up of renewable energy is a relatively cheap way to appear to address the popular demand for climate action without breaking from its support for the corporate polluters.
The postponement for a year of the United Nations climate summit (COP26) to next November is a further unforgivable delay by global governments.
Australia — and other countries — should take unilateral action to reduce emissions now without waiting for international agreements (the Paris agreement is also voluntary).
However, this won’t happen without a popular revolt against Labor and Liberal governments — servants of the corporate polluters.
There is a pathway out of this mess, and Socialist Alliance wants to help advance it.
To be successful, however, it has to involve masses of people organising together in a sustained way: that is the only way to mount the sort of pressure needed for governments to change course. This mass action strategy can also help prepare the way for a genuine democratic and socialist reorganisation of society.
[Alex Bainbridge is the national convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]