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Kids prepare another strike against government climate inaction

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Australian students are ready to take to the streets again to make their voices heard against climate inaction (Screenshot via YouTube)

This Friday, schoolchildren will again take to the streets to protest the failure to address the climate crisis.

They will stand up, speak and shout to be heard. They will endure criticism and condescension from passers-by, politicians and sections of the media. So why are they are doing it? Australia is acting on climate change, isn’t it? We have a “technology roadmap” to fix it, don’t we?

Listen to the kids. Their message is important. Despite a small drop in emissions in 2020 as COVID-19 struck, global levels of carbon dioxide have continued to climb, now at 416 ppm (compared with a pre-industrial level of 280 ppm). Methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2 in warming effect, is now at almost three times its pre-industrial level and that around 35 per cent of methane comes from fossil fuels.

We know what these increases mean for the atmosphere and the oceans. This is science and it is taught in school, and evidence of climate change is now pervasive. To plead ignorance in the face of unprecedented heat waves, longer and more dangerous fire seasons, coastal erosion, melting ice sheets and glaciers, and spreading zoonotic diseases is willful ignorance or stupidity.

Government policy, expressed in last week’s Budget, fails the next generation. The stimulus package was welcome because it recognises in aged care, childcare and other social supports that people matter. However, government policies are designed to return us to a pre-COVID-19 economy based on fossil fuels, thereby missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to seriously address what the World Health Organisation has described as ‘the greatest threat to global health in the 21st Century’.

The International Energy Agency states that coal, oil and gas need to sharply decline this decade to avert dangerous climate change. Electric vehicles need to be at 65% by 2030. Our government is going in the opposite direction.

The scale of support for the fossil gas industry revealed in the October and May Budgets is stunning. Funding has been allocated to support pipelines, gas hubs ($275.5 million), five massive new gas basin sites and carbon capture and storage ($263.7 million) which have failed in over 80% of projects in the U.S. and at Chevron’s northwest shelf site. $58.6 million will go directly to supporting new gas projects.

Fossil fuel producers will be assisted to produce hydrogen from gas, an emissions-intensive process that could only be justified if all the CO2 produced is captured, an unlikely prospect. The Liddell coal-fired power station due for closure in 2023 is to be replaced with a gas-powered station at a cost to the taxpayer (future cost to our children) of $600 million. The Investor Group on Climate Change says this will drive away new investment in renewable energy.

There is nothing in the Budget for electric vehicles or major public transport infrastructure. Microgrids for remote Northern Territory communities and the Daintree are excellent ideas, but why just remote communities? Ironically, $1.2 billion over five years will be allocated to disaster risk reduction and resilience, a most important initiative, needed as a result of the climate crisis.

The Government’s fixation with gas can only be explained by the advice they seek. The PM has surrounded himself with energy advisors from the fossil fuel industries. The Emissions Reduction Minister has a long history of opposition to renewable energy. The Grattan Institute and the Government’s own regulator, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) see a declining need for gas over this decade.

A report from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that cutting anthropogenic sources of methane by 45% this decade will be needed to prevent global warming going over the dangerous two degrees threshold, saying:

‘...expansion of natural gas infrastructure and usage is incompatible with keeping warming to 1.5°C.’

The International Energy Agency has today reported that further exploitation of coal, oil and gas reserves must be curtailed to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of less than 2°C warming.

The Energy Minister is fond of saying technology not taxes, but what the Government is doing is shifting a massive burden onto the next generation when they should be leading a green recovery that would bring lasting prosperity to our nation. We have the technology to do this now.

To the kids coming out on Friday to demonstrate for a safer future, I say well done and thank you. You are showing courage and leadership.

To the parents, grandparents and all those who care about the future direction our wonderful country takes, I say get behind the kids, support them and above all, listen to them.

Dr Graeme McLeay is a retired anaesthetist and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

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