Australia: a rogue state promoting climate catastrophe

May 18, 2018

It is bad enough that Australia is not on track to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28% on 2005 levels by 2030, as it is notionally committed to doing, but according to the government's own figures, it is only set to reduce them by 5%. What makes it worse is that even the 26–28% target is very conservative and unlikely to be sufficient.

In truth, wealthy industrialised countries like ours should be seeking to become net zero emission economies and societies, both because we can and because it is simply not worth gambling with the continued existence of life as we know it.

But it's not just the emissions we produce at home that are the problem. These emissions are eclipsed by those we export to the rest of the world. We are the third-biggest exporter of fossil fuels and their carbon emissions in the world, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The proximity of the Queensland coal fields to the Great Barrier Reef vividly illustrates how we are shitting in our own nest, and the Stop Adani movement has rightly mobilised in opposition. Both it and the campaign to stop unconventional gas extraction have become our Franklin Dam campaigns. 

However natural gas is no less a problem. With a string of gas fields set to be exploited off the north-western coast, Australia will overtake Qatar as the biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world. Despite the marketing hype that tries to position it as a "transition fuel", natural gas is as damaging to our future as coal. It only produces about one-third the emissions of coal when it is burnt, but over the whole production cycle it is just as bad because of the unburned gas that escapes along the way.

Methane decays after about two decades, but in the time it is in the atmosphere it is a greenhouse gas on steroids, doing 86 times more damage than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Measured over a 100-year time frame, it is 34 times as damaging. Consequently, only a tiny percentage needs to escape during production for it to be as bad, or worse, than coal. Estimates of "fugitive emissions" already range between 3% and 9%.

Whatever the exact figure, we need to rapidly phase out all unnecessary fossil fuel usage, including gas. We simply should not be using it for generating electricity, cooking food or powering vehicles.

Furthermore millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are created in the production of LNG. The Chevron-operated Gorgon plant on Barrow Island was approved on condition that the company seek to inject all the carbon dioxide produced — at a minimum 80% — into underground aquifers. The plant has been operating since December 2016 but has not yet succeeded in injecting any of it underground. By Chevron's own estimates, this means an extra 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is being put into the atmosphere every year. Far from being held to account for this failure to meet the environmental requirements, the company has been given approval to expand the operation.

Chevron's overall total emissions are 8.3 million tonnes and Woodside's North West Shelf churns out 7.6 million tonnes. Together the LNG industry is responsible for just over 30% of WA's emissions and this will surge when the Wheatstone project, with about 4 million tonnes, comes online.

Well, we might be destroying the climate, but at least we're getting the benefit now, aren't we? No, in practice we are giving the resource to oil and gas companies for nothing. Our miserable revenue take is about $600 million a year, compared to Qatar, which collects $26.6 billion. If we were collecting a similar amount we could be well on the way to transitioning our own economy to 100% renewables and have thrown some serious resources at so many social needs. The big oil and gas majors regularly figure among the hundreds of companies that get away with effectively paying no tax. We are literally paying them to destroy the planet. 

The big fossil fuel companies do not influence Australian governments, they own them lock, stock and barrel. With the Coalition and Labor in their pocket, it is no wonder the government has worked to block a stronger UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This is the logical fusion of politics that puts corporate profits ahead of life on Earth. It is why the Australian government is a rogue state. It is the responsibility of every Australian of good conscience to seek to bring down this government and everything it stands for. 

The starting place in the struggle to stop these sociopaths is in the fight to stop Adani and gas fracking, against the detention and turnback of refugees, in our efforts to stop their "war on the poor" budget, and in the multitude of other campaigns for environment and social justice.

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