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Australia lacks a sustainable climate policy

Australia has fallen behind most developed countries on reducing its emissions and building resilience against climate change

By Kevin Rudd

Few countries have such a fundamental interest in addressing climate change as Australia. Yet Australia’s current conservative government refuses to take necessary actions in response to climate science: to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and therefore play its part as a responsible member of the international community. Instead, we Australians are now free-riding on the rest of the world.

The Australian government is not listening to the international business community, despite the fact that investors responsible for US$2.4 trillion in assets recently pledged to move to carbon-neutral portfolios by 2050. It is also out of step with Australia’s military leadership, which recognizes the threat to global security from climate change, as well as the increasing strain caused by constant disaster-relief missions in the region.

The government is showing disrespect for the public, especially young people, many of whom are beginning to dread the world they would inherit.

According to Australia’s national scientific body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, our climate has already warmed by 1°C since 1910. Our mid-year rainfall has declined by 20 percent since the 1970s in some parts of the country. Our farmers face droughts that are 20 percent longer, prolonging and intensifying bushfire seasons.

The economic cost of natural disasters is already enormous: US$182 billion in the decade to 2016, according to Deloitte Access Economics.

Sea levels are projected to rise by almost 1m by 2100, threatening 35,000km of coastal road and rail infrastructure. Natural disasters do not only take lives, destroy homes and ruin livelihoods. They also close ports, sap insurance pools, devastate food production and blow up government budgets.

Conversely, the transition to a cleaner future, if managed well, could be an economic boon for Australia. Our vast natural-gas resources represent a cleaner option for making the transition from coal and oil.

There is enormous potential for solar-power generation across our vast, sunshine-drenched land, and the costs of solar are coming down. The same goes for wind energy, owing to our long coastline and sprawling interior. Our scientists, researchers and renewable-energy entrepreneurs are brimming with exportable expertise.

IN REVERSE

Rather than reduce emissions, Australia has expanded its national carbon footprint by an average of 1 percent per year since my government left office in 2013. Indeed, we are on track for an 8 percent increase (from 2005 levels) by 2030.

By contrast, the World Resources Institute predicts that almost 60 countries accounting for more than 60 percent of global emissions, including China, would have already reached peak emissions by that time. This fact alone demolishes the claim routinely used by Australian conservatives that Australia should not act because China has not.

The national emissions target adopted by Australia’s conservative government back in 2015 calls for a 26-28 percent reduction by 2030; but it was based on deception. The government of then-prime minister Tony Abbott chose it because it mirrored former US president Barack Obama’s projection of a 26-28 percent reduction in US emissions by 2025.

Abbott falsely claimed his target was “the same as the United States,” when he knew full well that Obama’s target represented a much larger cut of 41 percent if pushed out to 2030. Abbott was aided by the complicit, climate-denialist Rupert Murdoch-owned media, which reinforced the lie.

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