Australia tackles climate issues | The Manila Times
DEVASTATION ON FIRE In this photo provided by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, a firefighter attends to a fire near Wooroloo, northeast of Perth, Australia February 2, 2021. FILE PHOTO AP
SYDNEY: Australia, battered by floods, fires and drought, is trying to clean up its action on climate change, but reliance on fossil fuel wealth could thwart national transformation.
Centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese came to power in May promising weary Australians he would tackle climate change.
He followed through on a key part of that pledge on Thursday, nearly doubling the country’s 2030 emissions reduction target to 43%.
Albanese faces a thorny dilemma: Australians want real action to slow global warming, but they live in a country that depends on exporting the fossil fuels that cause it.
Australia’s emissions – although high per person – are just over 1% of global emissions.
Far more important are fossil fuels mined in Australia and burned overseas.
Estimates differ, but these could account for between 3-5% of global emissions, making Australia one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters.
Another beneficiary of the May elections wants to put an end to this.
“You don’t end climate wars by opening up new coal and gas mines,” said Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt, whose party now holds the balance of power in the Senate and wants sweeping energy reform in exchange for collaboration with the government.
The sticking point for the Greens, Bandt told Agence France-Presse (AFP), was that the government had promised to back 114 new coal and gas projects already in Australia’s investment pipeline.
Modeling by the Greens revealed that these projects would more than double Australia’s emissions.
“None of these new projects that the government wants to open are factored into their climate modelling,” Bandt said.
First discovered in 1791, Australia’s vast coal deposits make it the world’s second largest exporter.
It is also one of the main exporters of gas – mainly natural gas and gas extracted from coal seams.
Fossil fuels account for around a quarter of Australia’s exports, with most going to Japan, China and South Korea, according to an analysis by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Nationally, about 70% of electricity comes from coal and gas, according to official figures.
Given economic sensitivities, the Albanian government has so far dodged calls to set a deadline for withdrawal from the sector, arguing that international markets will decide when coal will no longer be viable.
The approach may appease dissent from the coal and gas industry, used to catching on after a decade of conservative governments.
But it could cause economic turmoil, with central bank analysts warning that demand for coal could fall by up to 80% by the middle of the decade, leaving “stranded assets” that cannot be sold.
Already the stumps are beginning to show.
Mining giant BHP announced on Thursday that it had been unable to sell its coal assets in the populous New South Wales state.
The country’s largest energy producer and carbon emitter, AGL, also faces an uncertain future.
When AGL tried to spin off the most polluting parts of its business, green-minded tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes sought to buy the company to stop the plan.
Its offer was rejected, but Cannon-Brookes successfully lobbied other investors to block the split, arguing that it would hurt shareholders and delay the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.
Greenpeace Australia chief executive David Ritter said AGL’s experience was a lesson in heeding the call for climate action.
“Every company that makes the same mistakes can expect to run into real turbulence very, very quickly,” he told AFP.
This turbulence will come from activists, but also from the Australian public who have seen firsthand how a wilder climate can work against them.
After “black summer”
Australia’s 2019-20 “Black Summer” bushfires scorched 24 million hectares of land, blanketed towns in smoke and killed more than 30 people and around tens of millions of wildlife.
Over the next two years, dramatic floods submerged Australia’s east coast, killing more than 20 people this year as waters reached rooftops and torrents swept cars off the roads.
Ahead of the bushfires, veteran firefighter Greg Mullins tried to warn the government that he was unprepared for the hell to come.
For 14 years Mullins led the fire services of Australia’s largest state, New South Wales, and he was joined by other retired emergency service leaders to sound the alarm. that climate change had greatly increased the threat of fire.
“It was all political. Because we mentioned climate change, they locked us out,” he told AFP.
He and his fellow members of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action are calling for much more ambitious emissions cuts – 75% by 2030.
“We’ve lost the last decade of climate action, they have to do a lot of catching up,” he said.