With Australia in the last spot in global climate action, you don’t have to look much to see where we’ve strayed.
Out of nearly 200 UN member countries, we have come last in our efforts to tackle climate change. In the 2021 sustainable development report, first reported by Renew Economy, we only got 10 out of 100 when it comes to our fossil fuel emissions, emissions associated with imports and exports, and carbon pricing policy. Climate experts, however, are not surprised.
“Australia has received similar rankings from other comparable studies, including the Climate change performance index, which last year ranked Australia penultimate behind Trump’s America, ”said Richie Merzian of the Australia Institute.
The report also clearly noted our lack of commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Instead, Scott Morrison somehow promised that it would be “better” if we hit the target by 2050.
So how did we get to this?
Last year, The Australian was convinced. “Australia could have avoided two decades of wars on climate change if the Howard government had pursued its majority vision of an Emissions Trading System (ETS), recently released documents reveal.” Historian Chris Wallace is not so unequivocal in this statement, but nonetheless observed in The conversation that “a working consensus among cabinet ministers” is noticeable, “with one exception, that an Emissions Trading System (ETS) was not only a possible but likely route through which Australia would eventually meet its international environmental obligations “.
These opinions came in light of the release by the Australian National Archives of the 2000 cabinet documents. Climate change skeptics are not on the rise; the Australian Greenhouse Office is working on a variant of the ETS and requested funding for its operations in the May budget.
It is far too rosy reading. The Howard government had already supported in December 1997 in Kyoto (Conference of the Parties COP3) that the growth of greenhouse gas emissions would be allowed at 108% of its 1990 baseline. Along with Iceland and Norway, it was one of three countries to have achieved an increase in emission levels from its 1990 baseline. adds Australia’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, even though Prime Minister John Howard still bragged about his environmental measures, including the creation of the Australian Greenhouse Office.
How even to achieve Australia’s singularly generous goals was a source of concern among ministers. Environment Minister Robert Hill submission in May, his colleagues drew attention to two projects – the Kogan Creek coal-fired power plant in Queensland and Comalco Alumina – which together would account for 25% of the emissions growth allowed by the Kyoto commitments.
Efficiency issues have been raised: the Kogan Creek power plant is only half as efficient as a gas version. Hill suggested imposing various conditions, one of which would be a commitment to reduce carbon resulting from the projects. Three ministries – the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury and the Ministry of Finance – have pooped the idea. In the court reply PM&C, it was “desirable to clarify future greenhouse policies as soon as possible to reduce the uncertainty faced by investors in projects such as these.”
But there was one character looming, an aggressive paladin for the resource sector skeptical of the climate change narrative. Nick Minchin was the Howard government’s Minister of Industry and Resources. He had big, aggressive dreams for gas. Its objective: to blunt any emissions trading system through large compensation programs in carbon-intensive industries.
This does not mean that an ETS would not have been seriously deficient either in its philosophy or in its implementation. During COP6 in The Hague, a voice lobby for the commercialization of greenhouse gases, groups seeking to corporatize conspicuous emission reduction through free trade environmentalism were present. These include the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The Kyoto Protocol risked becoming a pro-business charter.
Australia’s less than heroic contribution to The Hague was important in ensuring that no deal was reached between participating countries, largely due to disagreements between the United States and the European Union. Hill was tasked with further alleviating the light burden of his country’s environmental responsibility, with a brief which would seek additional carbon sinks already agreed in the Kyoto negotiations.
The minister would “minimize the cost of implementing Kyoto and the impact on Australia’s trade competitiveness.” If the specter of disproportionate costs to Australia arose during the COP6 negotiations, Hill would become a committed saboteur, working “with like-minded countries to block consensus or, failing that, make a statement of the country’s position. Australia”. Australia, as part of an umbrella group including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Iceland, Norway and Iceland, duly endorsed US proposals for the use carbon sinks.
The fact that Minchin would not even agree to a market model for emissions trading suggested an encampment, an ideology of a pre-heliocentric nature. Most ministers in the Howard government have, on some level, accepted the gravity of man-made climate change. But one survey of Minchin’s opinions over the years reveals how his climate activist stance has become the orthodoxy of Australian governments from Abbott to Morrison. Along with Abbott, he is a fan of carbon dioxide, “more a friend than an enemy of the flora and fauna of the earth.” Climate change was a natural process of complexity requiring “careful and cost-effective adaptation”. He remained skeptical “on the theory of anthropogenic global warming”.
In July 2013, Minchin launched Taxing the air: facts and illusions about climate change. Written by Bob Carter and a host of other skeptics, including Stewart Franks and Bill Kininmonth, Minchin was “flattered” to have been asked to launch a book that he said should be “in every school, every university and every library. community ”. Carter was “a formidable voice and leader in the fight against the alarmists we have all been subjected to on the theory of anthropogenic global warming.”
In 2009, Minchin was a cardinal knife bearer in the Liberal Party coup against then leader and future Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull was an ETS convert; his replacement, a certain climate change denier, Tony Abbott, was not. Abbott became Prime Minister in 2013 promising to dismantle carbon pricing systems. Australia’s climate change policy, imperfect as it was, had been effectively and completely abandoned.
In 2021, Minchin’s legacy remains firm and swift. Australia maintains an almost manic ambivalence about reducing emissions. The mining lobbies remain loudly strong, the environmental portfolio of the Morrison cabinet, weak. The government’s lack of ambition led it to keep Saudi Arabia and Brazil company by be excluded of the last United Nations Climate Action Summit. This trend was already established at the start of the new millennium.