Australia’s climate change vulnerability and inaction


in Politics, Rants, The environment

You would think a country where the entire state of New South Wales, responsible for a quarter of their agricultural output, is currently in drought and where water scarcity threatens their long-term viability as a country wouldn’t be such a climate change villain. Their wildfires keep worsening and their most important river is drying up. Alas, as with Canada’s oil-selling obsession, Australia seems more concerned about selling as much coal as possible to China as with maintaining a habitable continent.

Even without factoring in such exports, their emissions of greenhouse gas pollution have been steadily rising since 2013 after a period of general decline going back to 2005. Perhaps that’s unsurprising as they repealed their carbon tax in 2014.

This ties into a frightening possibility: as the most vulnerable rich countries are hit harder and harder by climate change they may not draw the lesson that international cooperation is necessary, retreating instead into self-defeating selfishness.

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. August 20, 2018 at 1:43 pm

Malcolm Turnbull removes all climate change targets from energy policy in fresh bid to save leadership

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has staged another dramatic retreat on energy policy in the face of a dire threat to his leadership, removing climate change targets from the National Energy Guarantee in his second policy reset in four days.

The revised scheme will go ahead without federal legislation to stipulate a 26 per cent cut to greenhouse gas emissions under changes aimed at averting a challenge from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

. August 22, 2018 at 10:19 pm

Australia Wilts From Climate Change. Why Can’t Its Politicians Act?

SYDNEY, Australia — Mile after mile of the Great Barrier Reef is dying amid rising ocean temperatures. Hundreds of bush fires are blazing across Australia’s center, in winter, partly because of a record-breaking drought.

The global scientific consensus is clear: Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change.

And yet on Monday, Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, abandoned a modest effort to reduce energy emissions under pressure from conservatives in his party. And on Tuesday, those same conservatives just missed toppling his government.

What on earth is going on?

Australia’s resistance to addressing climate change — by limiting emissions in particular — is well documented. Mr. Turnbull could yet be turned out of office as rivals rally support for another challenge as soon as Thursday. If that happens, he will be the third Australian prime minister in the last decade to lose the position over a climate dispute.

Despite the country’s reputation for progressiveness on gun control, health care and wages, its energy politics seem forever doomed to devolve into a circus. Experts point to many reasons, from partisanship to personality conflicts, but the root of the problem may be tied to the land.

. September 14, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Australia on track to miss Paris climate targets as emissions hit record highs

NDEVR Environmental data suggests Australia will miss targets by 1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide under current trajectory

. October 1, 2018 at 3:15 am
. October 8, 2018 at 11:22 pm
. October 28, 2018 at 9:58 pm

‘Silenced’: Leading reef research centre faces axe after funding miss

One of the world’s premier coral reef research centres has failed to secure Australian Research Council funding, placing in doubt the science hub even as the Great Barrier Reef faces another bout of bleaching.

The council confirmed in Senate estimate on Thursday that the Townsville-based Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies missed out on even making the funding shortlist for its next round of funding.

. December 13, 2018 at 7:15 pm

Pacific nations under climate threat urge Australia to abandon coal within 12 years

Frustrated leaders appeal to ‘all OECD countries’ to phase out use as Australia signals support for new plants

Pacific countries vulnerable to climate change have urged Australia to abandon coal power generation within 12 years, and to prohibit new coal plants or expansion of existing plants.

The call from 15 small Pacific island states came one day after the Australian government called for expressions of interest in new power generation projects, indicating it would be prepared to use taxpayer money to underwrite new coal plants.

Leaders warned Australia’s relations in the Pacific were being eroded by a perceived intransigence in Canberra over coalmining.

As the COP24 UN climate talks in Poland remained stalled over an unwillingness from major emitters to commit to further carbon emissions cuts, frustrated Pacific states, traditional allies of Australia, said the world must abandon coal-powered energy generation.

The Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, the outgoing president of COP23, said: “We call on all OECD countries to quickly phase out their use of coal by 2030 and for all other countries to phase out their use of coal by 2040. There must be no expansion of existing coal mines or the creation of new mines.”

. December 15, 2018 at 7:32 pm

Almost all of New South Wales, a state responsible for a quarter of Australia’s agricultural output by value, is parched. Trees have died, crops have withered, animals have shrunk to skeletons. In Coonabarabran, where water is strictly rationed, some residents have moved their washing machines outside so that the run-off can hose their gardens.

Many farmers have been forced to send their animals to slaughter. The cull may leave the number of livestock in Australia at a record low; wheat yields could be the feeblest in a decade. Those like Mr Doolan who keep their animals alive at great expense are gamblers. They bet that when the rains return and other farmers start rebuilding, the value of their herds will soar. Previous droughts have taken about a percentage point off Australia’s growth rate. And the strain is not just economic: the suicide rate in the outback has risen sharply during the latest drought.

But some city folk argue that taxpayers should not have to subsidise farmers in tough years, given that profits in good times can be enormous. The government has not matched emergency handouts with a long-term plan to cope with global warming. On a recent rural tour, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, suggested that farmers do not “care one way or the other” whether climate change contributes to the problem. His right-of-centre government has ditched a policy that would have enshrined emissions targets in law, all but abandoning goals set under the un’s Paris Agreement three years ago. Australia’s emissions have been rising.

. December 18, 2018 at 11:05 am

Bleaching, cyclones and infestations of crown-of-thorns starfish, which munch through coral, all damage parts of the reef from time to time. The amount of coral fluctuates depending on how often and how severely such adversity strikes. In the northern portion of the reef, in particular, coral cover is at the lowest level ever recorded. David Wachenfeld of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government agency responsible for its protection, says that the higher water temperatures brought on by global warming have led to more frequent bouts of bleaching, leaving the reef too little time to recover in between. Like the farmers of Western Australia, it is running out of resilience.

Yet Australia still gets more than 60% of its power from coal, the fuel that does the most damage to the climate. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of coal. Per person, it generates more emissions than any other big economy bar America and Saudi Arabia. And unlike most rich countries, its emissions are growing.

. February 2, 2019 at 3:59 pm
. July 18, 2019 at 3:58 pm

In the long term Australia’s coal industry may see a bifurcation, as exports rise for coking coal, which is crucial for the production of steel, and slump for thermal coal. Already, banks are limiting the amount of finance they make available for coal projects. Australia’s banks have also declined to underwrite a controversial plan by Adani, a firm based in the Indian state of Gujarat, to build what was once billed as Australia’s biggest thermal coal mine in the untapped Galilee Basin in northern Queensland.

David Lennox, an analyst in Sydney, thinks “significant investment” in new coal mines will diminish over the next 30 years. Firms providing capital, he reckons, will see growth in gas and renewable-energy projects providing better returns “because they won’t have people protesting about them”. The Clean Energy Council, an industry body, cites investment of A$20bn ($14.3bn) in 83 renewable-energy projects already under way in Australia; a figure that has doubled since late 2017.

However, the transition from coal to cleaner fuels may be slower than in other countries, because of the industry’s scale. Scott Morrison, prime minister in the conservative coalition government, gave a speech on climate change on February 25th, which he hopes will boost his political fortunes in an election due in May. But he did not mention coal at all. Mr Morrison has openly championed coal. When he was Treasurer two years ago, he waved a lump of it in parliament and declared: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid.” Perhaps he now is.

. July 18, 2019 at 4:58 pm

Few rich countries are as severely affected by climate change as Australia. Storms and cyclones strike the tropical north with increasing ferocity, and droughts are hitting harder and for longer. Since the last federal vote, warming waters have killed much of the Great Barrier Reef.

This summer seemed particularly apocalyptic. A million native fish washed up dead in the Darling river, part of Australia’s longest river system, which is drying out. Flooding in northern Queensland killed several people and half a million cattle. Fires ripped through the southern island of Tasmania, destroying ancient forests.

One recent poll found that over 60% of voters believe that climate change presents a “critical threat” to Australia. Yet it is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, the fuel that causes the most pollution. Most of the country’s power is still generated by the stuff. Relative to its population, Australia produces more emissions than almost any other rich economy.

Politicians have been at war over what to do about this for a decade. Labor lost two prime ministers to the problem before the Liberals came to power in 2013. The quagmire has since deepened. Tony Abbott, who was then the Liberal leader, axed a carbon tax introduced by Labor. His government also pared back a renewable-energy target and cut funding for climate science.

. August 2, 2019 at 5:40 pm
. August 2, 2019 at 7:01 pm
. August 4, 2019 at 2:08 pm

In its first phase, the group would dig up 10m tonnes of coal annually, a tiny fraction of global consumption. But the mine’s full capacity is six times that amount. Moreover, six more mines are proposed in the Galilee Basin. With Adani’s going ahead, the others may follow more easily. Together, their coal could produce more carbon dioxide each year than the rest of Australia, according to the Climate Council, a research group.

. September 10, 2019 at 3:49 pm
. September 17, 2019 at 5:44 pm

In Australia, the disconnect among our political leaders on the deadly nature of fossil fuels is particularly breathtaking.

Prime minister Scott Morrison continues to sing the praises of coal, while members of the government call for subsidies for coal-fired power plants. A few days ago, the energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, urged that the nation’s old and polluting coal-fired power plants be allowed to run “at full tilt”.

. November 1, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Opposition leader Bill Shorten, tapped as the likely winner in the election, had proposed that Australia move away from exploiting its large coal reserves and instead take steps to generate half of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030. The move appeared to backfire electorally — especially in Queensland, where voters swung to the government in large numbers.

. December 7, 2019 at 1:40 am

Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia ‘literally burns’

Climate experts ‘bewildered’ by government ‘burying their heads in the sand’, and say bushfires on Australia’s east coast should be a ‘wake-up call’

. December 13, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Australia’s bushfires have emitted 250m tonnes of CO2, almost half of country’s annual emissions

Exclusive: forest regrowth can reabsorb emissions from fires but scientists fear natural carbon ‘sinks’ have been compromised

. January 19, 2020 at 3:28 pm
. January 28, 2020 at 2:28 pm

Australia is ‘ground zero’ in climate crisis and must show leadership, top researchers say

Adaptation to bushfires might not be achievable without stronger action to curb emissions, letter warns

. January 28, 2020 at 5:17 pm

Flames of blame: how climate change could upset the race to lead the Conservative Party

The knives are out among Australia’s conservatives as years of climate complacency go up in smoke

. February 16, 2020 at 8:20 pm
. February 16, 2020 at 9:38 pm

Australia is burning to ashes, but will it matter?

For all their scale and horror, these fires may have no lasting political effect. After all, we’ve seen it before here in Canada.

Column by Aaron Saad

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