By Colin Chapman
The optics tell the story. The first day of the week’s all-important United Nations Special Assembly on Climate Change in New York was a very bad look for Australia. And, as the week wore on, it did not get any better.
It’s only a few months since Scott Morrison, essentially a decent man, won the confidence of the Australian people after beating the Labor leader and trades union puppet, Bill Shorten. Since then, however, his progress has been uncertain. He has flirted with the idea of an unreachable deal with a dubious British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who shows scant respect for truth and justice.
Worse, Morrison has given little credence to the mounting evidence that climate change is damaging the planet, or to the many thousands of young voters who have taken to the streets to protest the inadequacy of the government’s response and the rants of ‘climate change denier’, Melbourne-based broadcaster Andrew Bolt.
The Morrison government has failed on climate change at every level.
The government minister for cities has failed to limit the rise of health-threatening air pollution in major conurbations, or to follow best practice in providing infrastructure and incentives to encourage the use of electric cars and commercial vehicles.
Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, one of the planet’s most significant world heritage sites, is in trouble because of benign neglect by both federal and Queensland governments. Last month’s report by the Great Barrier Reef’s Marine Park Authority stated unequivocally that this remarkable coral wonderland continues to deteriorate, marking its condition down from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’.
Imogen Zethoven, director of strategy for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: “We can turn this around, but only if the prime minister cares enough to lead a government that wants to save it. And saving it means being a leader here and internationally to bring greenhouse gas emissions down.”
The government’s response? Morrison failed to attend the UN climate change summit in New York, even though he was on the US east coast to meet President Donald Trump at the White House two days earlier. He was one of less than a handful of world leaders who did not show up, sending instead the foreign minister, Marise Payne, who did not speak.
The prime minister was cornered by journalists in Chicago but batted away questions about climate change, ducking the questions he would have been expected to answer at the UN summit. He declined to say when his government will develop a emission reduction strategy for 2050, as he pledged to do at the Pacific Islands Forum, and where Anglosphere countries like Britain pledged to have nil emissions within that time frame. Morrison insisted that the government would stick with its 2030 commitments, and was confident of meeting them,
Morrison is one of those leaders framed by the 16-year old Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, who tearfully told the UN: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words”. Less emotionally, but just as passionately, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said the world was now in a ‘deep climate-change hole’ and that urgent action was needed. “Time is running out”.
The latest scientific facts confirm that Guterres and Ms Thunberg are correct, and that Morrison, in his desire to sing along with Trump on all matters, is negligent. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record. Sea-level rise has accelerated significantly, as CO2 emissions have hit new highs. The WMO says carbon-cutting efforts have to be intensified immediately.
The need for Canberra to develop a new climate change strategy is glaringly obvious. The situation is not wholly bad, so it is mystifying that Morrison seems so reluctant to embrace and harness the enthusiasm of young Australians for Climate Action. Australian has moved a long way since the farce of two years ago when South Australia was plunged into darkness by the failure of its electricity supply.
There has been a big increase in investment in renewables, which are no longer regarded as unreliable, as once argued by Josh Frydenberg when he was energy minister. According to a scientific paper by the Australia National University published in The Conversation, renewable energy in our country is growing at a rate ten times faster than the world average. Between 2018 and 2020. Australia will install more than 16 gigawatts of wind and solar. That is, they say, three times faster per person than the next fastest country, Germany, which announced in New York it was doubling its spending on combating climate change.
I’d like to hear from readers what new steps Australia should take. One is to persuade the states to cut road tax to zero on electric and hybrid vehicles, and to gradually phase out carbon-producing vehicles over a defined period, as Britain is doing. Another is to introduce higher building standards, especially in insulation, so that businesses and families consume less electricity in the peaks of summer and winter. There is also a need for a large capital investment in infrastructure, including the provision of new, strategically placed hi-speed rail lines, and the installation of country-wide high-speed electrical points, so that the purchase of an electric vehicle becomes viable.
Please let us have your thoughts.