So, my loyal readers (… hah!), it’s been a while.
I won’t bother linking to the storm of condemnation of the Australian Rudd government’s betrayal that is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I might write up my own take on the White Paper when I can control the rage enough to read it.
But here’s a letter to our Prime Minister Rudd in protest. I will send it on to a few other politicians for good measure. Of course I know it won’t change anything directly, but every voice counts. As Greenpeace say, what would you tell your children?
Don’t sell our future to the coal lobby
Words can barely express my dismay and outrage at your government’s grossly inadequate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. With every passing month the climate science becomes more dire, more urgent. Evidence is rapidly building that a target of even 450ppm CO2-eq will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic climate change, unleashing positive feedback mechanisms such as the melting of the Arctic sea ice and massive methane fluxes from melting Arctic tundra and permafrost. The loss of the Greenland ice sheet — and attendant 5-7m rise in sea levels — will be only one result. The science is firming around a necessary target of 350ppm, as Al Gore pointed out at Poznan. Yet your government sets targets of 5-15% that do almost nothing to address this urgent reality; even at 15% for a 450ppm target Australia is shamefully short of acting responsibly. This is not what our national interest and the Australian people demand!
What’s more, the per capita argument is pure sophistry for the simple and obvious reason that Australia already has the invidious dishonour of being the highest emitter per capita in the industrialised world; indeed, more than double that of the EU. Even a 41% reduction from such a high per capita base would see us remain more than double, let alone approach an actual sustainable and just per capita rate. And if the rest of the world shifts to per capita calculations, Australia would fare even worse in any international negotiations. Let’s not forget that global population is projected to reach some 9 billion by 2050. What counts is the level of emissions to our collective atmosphere, not fanciful accounting to make a minor reduction appear as anything but. The world will see this absurdity for what it is: weak spin of a weak target.
Last week, Prime Minister, you announced $500m for expansion of rail infrastructure servicing Australian coal exports. This just beggars belief. Such actions underscore a world view that is unable to envision an Australia separate from the mining and export of fossil fuels. I can only imagine that this would be based on the assumption of carbon capture and sequestration. This end-of-pipe dream fantasy does not yet and may never exist. Even if CCS does function, it fundamentally fails to address the underlying cause of GHG emissions, instead burying them underground and in so doing imposing a permanent risk of storage failure and a consequent permanent liability on future generations. Rather than expanding an industry at the very heart of climate change, this money should be spent on infrastructure that serves all Australians and that moves us toward a sustainable future. For example: expansion of general rail freight infrastructure; helping to fund the pressing need for a massive increase in effective public transport capacity; or a consolidated programme to extend electricity grids to sites of strong renewable energy resource availability.
And then there are the billions to be given to our worst polluters in the form of free permits and direct financial assistance, especially to coal-fired electricity generators. This breathtaking transfer of public wealth to the very companies that cause the bulk of Australian emissions, with no real obligation on them to change behaviour, is unconscionable, outrageous, and utterly unacceptable. Garnaut made clear that any calls for compensation have no sound basis and no precedent in this country; others have pointed out that claims stemming from ‘investor confidence’ have the matter entirely backwards, penalising those who have made responsible investment decisions. The coal and other fossil fuel lobbies have known GHG mitigation was coming since at least the Rio Declaration in 1992. Your government now proposes to perpetuate these industries while simultaneously ignoring and marginalising clean energy and other sustainable alternatives. And a 5% target means that what carbon price signal does exist will be so weak that fossil fuels will only become further entrenched when we urgently need the exact opposite.
These public monies should be invested in energy efficiency programmes, in facilitating a wholesale structural transition of our energy infrastructure toward renewable alternatives, in retraining and reskilling coal workers for sustainable ‘green collar’ jobs in the best interests of us all. Study after study shows that there are dramatically more jobs to be had in these nascent industries than in the current fossil fuel legacy. The incoming Obama administration in the US is set to implement a Green New Deal, including significant funding of renewable energy infrastructure, yet you squander this opportunity by continuing to prop up fossil fuel interests, yet again marginalising Australia’s truly vast renewable energy resources. It is in these renewable resources, and the technologies and services we can build around them, that our national interest lays: in a sustainable and healthy future for society, our economy, and our environment.
Prime Minister, you claim that your government accepts the science and accepts the need to act. Your government was elected with a mandate for strong action on climate change. Yet your actions say quite the opposite: you have manifestly failed to deliver on that mandate. There is no ‘balance’ to be had between the demands of our planet’s climate system and the narrow self interest of the vocal minority of Australia’s businesses represented by the fossil fuel lobby. There is no compromise to be struck for the immutable reason that the climate system simply does not negotiate, Prime Minister.
I beg you to abandon this tragedy of a White Paper in favour of what our people, our country, and our planet urgently requires, Prime Minister. Set targets of between 25-40% by 2020, at minimum, and invest in a true structural transition for Australia away from a sclerotic world view that sees no role for us outside of the fossil fuel industries. Commit your government to a Green New Deal that finally recognises our vast natural renewable resources and our opportunity to be world leaders in renewable energy and other sustainable technologies and services. Commit your government to the meaningful climate change action that you were elected to deliver.
Justin Wood, BSc, BAppSc Energy Studies, MSc Renewable Energy Policy