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 Perhaps that’s unsurprising as they repealed their carbon tax in 2014.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

. May 16, 2020 at 4:34 pm

The bush fires threw the prime minister, Scott Morrison, off balance. Holidaying in Hawaii made him look out of touch, while his Liberal Party’s cosy links to oil, gas, coal and iron-ore interests came under closer scrutiny. Among big economies Australia ranks behind only Saudi Arabia in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions per head—and that does not count the emissions when its exports of coal and gas are consumed elsewhere.

. August 28, 2020 at 1:07 am

Tony Abbott’s climate denial prompted Barack Obama’s Brisbane barbs

Mr Abbott opened the summit with a speech in which he celebrated his success in ending Labor’s “carbon tax”, but hours later Mr Obama gave a speech at the University of Queensland in which he took a swipe at the Australian government line that coal lifted people out of poverty, and said developing economies should be helped to break free of the “false choice between development and pollution”.

He noted the “incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened” and he wanted to be able to return to view it one day with his daughters.

“We can get this done. And it is necessary to get this done,” he said.

. October 6, 2020 at 11:06 pm

Roadmap to nowhere

By 2030, according to the government’s own figures, Australia will have spent three decades making almost no progress in reducing emissions

. October 29, 2020 at 8:01 pm
. November 9, 2020 at 12:03 am

Australia inquiry says ‘alarming’ future needs national response | Australia | Al Jazeera

. November 9, 2020 at 7:41 pm

In 50 years of firefighting I had never seen fires like I did last summer. Australia must take climate change seriously

. December 15, 2020 at 6:43 pm

China-Australia relations: Canberra ‘very concerned’ over reports of ‘discriminatory’ coal ban

Canberra is trying to verify Chinese media reports that Beijing has directed power plants not to import Australian coal
Trade minister Simon Birmingham says, if true, the action could constitute a ‘breach of China’s commitments’ at World Trade Organization

. March 21, 2021 at 7:32 pm

‘Never seen anything like it’: locals watch helplessly as floodwaters rise across New South Wales | Australia weather | The Guardian

. March 29, 2021 at 5:25 pm

It’s not too late for Australia to forestall a dystopian future that alternates between Mad Max and Waterworld | Climate change | The Guardian

. March 31, 2021 at 2:16 pm

‘Delay is as dangerous as denial’: scientists urge Australia to reach net zero emissions faster | Climate change | The Guardian

. March 31, 2021 at 5:38 pm

What will happen to our cities (and beaches) at 3 degrees of warming?

Jungle turning to savannah. Homes swept away by rising seas and monster storms. The world is on track for 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century. What does that mean? And what can we do about it?

Barrier Reef doomed as up to 99% of coral at risk, report finds

The Great Barrier Reef is all but doomed, with between 70 and 99 per cent of corals set for destruction unless immediate “transformative action” is taken to reverse global warming, according to a new report.

The Australian Academy of Science says the more ambitious target of the Paris Climate Agreement of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees has now slipped out of reach and is “virtually impossible”.

. April 28, 2021 at 9:55 pm

Australia’s ambition on climate change is held back by a toxic mix of rightwing politics, media and vested interests | Climate change | The Guardian

. May 5, 2021 at 7:05 pm

The same realisation is dawning across Australia. Its three biggest export markets for fossil fuels—China, Japan and South Korea—have all recently pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century or just after. Another buyer of Australian coal, the Philippines, has banned new coal-fired power plants.

The federal government, a right-wing coalition, appears in denial about this changing outlook. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, insists he is “not concerned about our future exports”. When ANZ, a bank, said in October that it would stop funding new coal mines, coal-loving MPs griped that it was “virtue-signalling” and called for a boycott. (Australia’s three other big banks had already pledged to steer clear of coal.) A government minister told pension funds, which are also selling sooty investments, that their goal should be to maximise returns and “not to change the earth’s temperature”.

. May 9, 2021 at 2:25 pm

‘Life support’ measures could buy Great Barrier Reef another two decades, study finds | Great Barrier Reef | The Guardian

. May 20, 2021 at 1:59 pm

The world is moving away from fossil fuels, while in Australia, it’s all systems go for coal and gas | Bill Hare | The Guardian

. May 20, 2021 at 2:07 pm

Why is Australia building a $600m gas power plant as world experts warn against fossil fuels? | Energy | The Guardian

. June 22, 2021 at 3:49 pm

Great Barrier Reef should be listed as ‘in danger,’ UN says, upsetting Australia | CBC News

. June 22, 2021 at 3:50 pm

The Australian government wants to avoid the Great Barrier Reef being listed as ‘in danger’ at all costs | Imogen Zethoven | The Guardian

. June 29, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Climate change: Why action still ignites debate in Australia – BBC News

. September 14, 2021 at 4:34 pm

Australia burying ‘head in the sand’ on security risks of climate change, former defence official says | Climate crisis | The Guardian

. October 26, 2021 at 12:41 pm

But in reality, Morrison will go to COP26, reluctantly, with the weakest climate plan among the G20’s developed nations. The leader has also ignored months of calls to increase the country’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which is at around half that of the US’ pledge, and even further below the European Union’s and United Kingdom’s.
After publishing a defiant op-ed to announce the policy, in which the leader said he “won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia,” Morrison told journalists that he didn’t even intend to put net zero into law.

. November 4, 2021 at 10:38 pm

‘Scorched Earth Policy’: Inside Australia’s Plans to Triple Its Fossil Fuel Emissions

. November 5, 2021 at 8:17 pm

Australian government refuses to join 40 nations phasing out coal, saying it won’t ‘wipe out industries’

Australia accused of going backward as Cop26 pledge backed by five of world’s biggest coal power users

. November 24, 2021 at 11:10 am

Scott Morrison ‘did a jig’ following approval of $16bn gas project labelled a ‘disaster’ by green groups

Prime minister tells Business Council of Australia he ‘could not be more thrilled’ about Woodside proceeding with Scarborough gas development

. December 1, 2021 at 3:20 am

‘Confronting’: Great Barrier Reef faces frequent extreme coral bleaching at 2C heating, research finds | Great Barrier Reef | The Guardian

. December 3, 2021 at 1:23 pm

The jailing of a young climate protester is a prime example of Australia’s authoritarian drift

. December 9, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Aussie spy agency saw climate crisis coming 40 years ago — and fretted about its coal cash | Canada’s National Observer: News & Analysis

. December 20, 2021 at 8:44 pm

The teenagers and the nun trying to stop an Australian coal mine – BBC News

. April 12, 2022 at 12:20 am

Australia’s climate policy is all talk and no trousers

It relies too much on future technology and not enough on present action

Mr Morrison’s government will not pass a law to enforce any cuts. Nor will it put a price on carbon, as a Labor government did between 2012 and 2014, before the scheme was ripped up by the conservatives. Instead, Mr Morrison’s vision rests on five principles, which boil down to hoping and praying. Apart from “technology not taxes” and “drive down the cost” of technology, the principles include keeping energy cheap, not insisting anybody do anything, and promising to be accountable for its progress.

There is “no new money, no new policy and no credible plan”, says Tim Baxter of the Climate Council, an ngo. His organisation calculates that Australia is doing less to cut emissions than any other rich country. The government’s proposal, dating from Paris in 2015, aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 26-28% by 2030 from 2005 levels, compared with the 50-52% that America promises. No matter, says Mr Morrison. Australia will surpass its goal, with reductions of about 30-35%. Yet for it to do its part to keep global temperatures below 2°C as it promised in Paris, it too would have to raise its target to at least 50%, according to the Climate Targets Panel, a group of scientists. Hitting 1.5°C would involve cutting by 74%.

Australia’s intransigence matters for the rest of the world. Coal is still the source of most of the country’s electricity, accounting for a big chunk of its domestic emissions (see chart). Factoring in the vast quantities it exports, the country of just 25m people rises from the world’s 15th-biggest emitter of CO{-2} to its fifth. It is lobbying alongside other energy giants such as Saudi Arabia to weaken the un’s recommendations for phasing out fossil fuels.

Less than half of people surveyed in another poll want coal-fired power to be phased out within a decade, and 44% would prefer to keep exporting the stuff until overseas demand dries up.

The lack of alarm is all the stranger given that the continent feels the effects of climate change more acutely than many rich countries. It suffers crippling droughts and increasingly ferocious bushfires. Half its most prized natural treasure, the Great Barrier Reef, has been killed by warming waters. Islands in the Torres Strait, off its northern coast, are slipping into the sea.

. May 17, 2022 at 4:03 am

Australian election: Where is climate change on the agenda?

The majority of Australians want action on climate change, but you would not know that from the campaign for Saturday’s election

. May 23, 2022 at 3:26 pm

Australia’s rightwing government weaponised climate change – now it has faced its reckoning | Australia news | The Guardian

. June 30, 2022 at 4:32 pm

Sydney climate protests: Camouflaged figures lurking in the bush expose Australia’s angst over climate activists – CNN

. June 30, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Conservationists in court bid to halt $16bn Scarborough gas project citing damage to barrier reef | Gas | The Guardian

. July 6, 2022 at 6:03 pm

Sydney floods: Climate crisis becomes new normal for New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state – CNN

. July 21, 2022 at 4:28 pm

Australia’s environment in ‘shocking’ decline, report finds – BBC News

. August 25, 2022 at 6:13 pm

Northern Australia could have dangerously high heat most days of the year by 2100, study finds | Climate crisis | The Guardian

. September 19, 2022 at 11:04 am

‘Near persistent’ natural disasters placing intense pressure on Australian defence force | Australian military | The Guardian

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