The speech Tony Abbott should have made in New York this week

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Tony Abbott didn’t bother attending the Ban-Ki-Moon climate summit in New York City this week though he should have. Here are the carefully scripted remarks James Wight believes he should have made.

I HUMBLY SEEK FORGIVENESS from the delegates present, and from all citizens of the Earth, for my thoughtless actions to date.

I have realised anthropogenic global warming is the greatest and most urgent threat to humanity — far bigger than terrorism, as President Obama rightly points out.

I previously assumed scientists were exaggerating, but actually the impacts are proving worse than predicted. With horror, I came to understand global warming is already costing lives, including in Australia, through worsening heatwaves, floods, droughts, and fires. Even Wikipedia says so.

Worse, I realize my government has obstructed climate action.

We’ve promoted the fossil fuel industries driving the problem, approving over $800 billion worth of new projects. We’ve backtracked from Australia’s promises in these talks. We’ve abolished most domestic climate policies, and tried to kill our Renewable Energy Target to protect coal-fired power plants.

Our climate policy is, I must confess, ill-conceived.

It’ll merely pay polluters for voluntary efficiency improvements they might have made anyway, while allowing their total emissions to rise along with production growth. It’ll never achieve even our woefully inadequate 5% by 2020 reduction target. Though I used my daughters as props in my election campaign, my policies are destroying the world they’ll live in.

In my defence, I can only say I’ve followed in the footsteps of my predecessors, who also promoted fossil fuels.

In climate talks, they secured lenient targets with loopholes, allowing Australia’s emissions to rise 31% from 1990 to 2012. Hawke, Keating, and Howard limited climate policy to voluntary no-cost approaches like mine. Rudd and Gillard pushed an emissions trading scheme, or ETS, allowing Australia to buy offsets overseas. A so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one, it’s a policy Howard pioneered as, he admits, a way to placate the public without hurting industry. Yet even the Greens eventually bought into it, via an agreement to start with a fixed carbon tax.

I’m ashamed to say after being elected opposition leader on an anti-ETS platform, I largely overlooked legitimate criticisms of the policy. Instead, I attacked the carbon tax for what I said would be its massive economy-destroying costs.

It took me years to repeal it, yet the sky still hadn’t fallen in when I eventually did.

As difficult as it is to admit, that I spent years of my life tilting at literal windmills, I’m strong enough to say I was wrong. The carbon tax was never a threat to the Australian way of life. The real threat was always global warming, to which the carbon tax was a very inadequate response.

I now hear the people demanding action.

On Sunday, 400,000 marched here in New York City and they can’t all be latte-drinkers. Back home, 30,000 marched in Melbourne and it wasn’t St Patrick’s Day. My party apologises for restricting the right to protest — the true threat is not activists for system change, but corporations driving climate change.

I’m a conservative, but past inaction has brought us to a point where there’s no longer a non-radical option. It’s either radical transition now, or radical collapse later.

We will no longer place blind faith in market-friendly policies after they’ve failed for 25 years. We must take direct action to cut emissions towards zero as fast as possible. With mounting evidence that global warming is already dangerous, I can think of few things more damaging to our future than for Australia’s fossil fuels to be sold and not left in the ground.

Because the fossil fuel industry must end, my party will stop taking donations from them, cut our ties with their front groups and ignore their self-interested arguments calculated to sabotage climate action.

Big Carbon has inflated its importance to Australia: coal mining only provides 0.3% of Australian jobs, and most profits go overseas or to a handful of super-rich individuals. Their claim to provide the only cheap energy ignores the consequent costs of climate change, and is outdated as renewables are increasingly competitive.

I no longer believe Australia should wait for the world. If all countries waited for others to act, nobody would. It was unfair of us to make our actions conditional on those of others, because Australia’s wealth and high responsibility for emissions oblige us to lead.

I’m proud to announce Australia will ban new fossil fuel exploration, mining projects, power stations, and export infrastructure. We’ll phase out our fossil fuel exports, because countries share responsibility for emissions resulting from international trade. As a top coal exporter, we can substantially reduce global supply, increase coal prices and help create a new international norm of leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

We’ll rapidly phase out emissions at home. Instead of the typical distant targets, we’ll slash emissions within a single electoral term, aiming for an ambitious 20% reduction by 2016. That’s a difficult ask, but former Greenpeace CEO Paul Gilding argues such an emergency-speed target is possible with political will.

We’ll increase the Renewable Energy Target to 100% by 2025. Beyond Zero Emissions has shown 100% can be achieved within ten years. We’ll draw up similar plans to decarbonize each economic sector by deploying the best available zero-carbon technologies.

Real action may require some costs or lifestyle changes, certainly for those invested in polluting industries, but any costs will be dwarfed by the avoided devastating long-term costs of global warming. There are no jobs on a dead planet.

That said, having learned from my unequitable first budget, we’ll assist Australians through the transition.

Workers from old polluting industries will be retrained to build and maintain new zero-carbon infrastructure. For households, we’ll restart energy efficiency programs and introduce a safe home insulation scheme. We’ll involve communities in the planning process, though the overarching goal is non-negotiable.

To ensure our government retains the power to implement climate policies, we’ll withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, and refuse to sign any free trade deal containing investor-state dispute settlement provisions.

Internationally, we’ll promote urgent global action, shifting negotiation efforts from post-2020 to pre-2020, because 2020 is too late to wait. Australia will unconditionally accept strong binding targets without offsets or other loopholes.

We’ll withdraw from the Umbrella Group ‒ a thinly veiled club for rich countries evading genuine action, and instead seek an alliance with island states ‒ who despite their limited resources have bravely taken the lead by transforming their own energy systems. We’ll provide funding and technology for poor countries. I apologize for ridiculing the developing world’s pleas for financial assistance by invoking a superficial comparison with a domestic political opponent.

Australia will redirect several per cent of its GDP to climate action. We will cut fossil fuel subsidies — that alone will raise $14 billion annually. We’ll cut back on the military and border security, as climate change is the most pressing security threat to the world’s people. We’ll raise taxes on the super-rich and corporations and clean up tax loopholes. If necessary, we may borrow money, as I now understand it is ecological debt that’s truly in crisis.

I will even reinstate a fixed carbon tax, albeit without emissions trading. I’ll increase it to a level sufficient to redirect energy investment from fossil fuels to renewables, and expand it to apply to emissions from the offshore burning of fossil fuel exports. So we will have raised the price of carbon and we’ll have gone down a path that everyone understands.

As I’ve said before: if you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax?

I urge other countries to join us.

I know most of you came here with instructions to obstruct action to protect the supposed interests of your respective nations, which you equate with the interests of your local fossil fuel industries. Until recently I thought the same way. But these talks are about something more important than the relative power of states or corporations. We’re here to save the planet.

Australia is about to lead on climate. It’s time for the world to follow.

This is based on a longer article published at Precarious Climate. You can follow James on Twitter @350ppmJames.

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