The Age of Stupid: Coalition's response to IPCC climate report

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We have 12 years to fix this, yet our Government doesn't seem to care (Image via Pexels)

The Coalition Government's response to the new IPCC climate change report has been nothing short of stupid, writes Giles Parkinson.

IT WASN'T TOO HARD to predict what the Coalition Government’s responses to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report would be — you just needed to know where they would be making them.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison chose two different media forums to espouse his views — that of far right shock jock Alan Jones on Radio 2GB and Sky News, where the lunar Right have been gearing up for this event for the past week.

As ABC’s Media Watch host Paul Barry noted of the Sky News “after dark” coverage on Monday: it’s either irresponsible or “bat-shit” crazy. You could categorise the Coalition Government’s response along the same lines.

Morrison’s first response, as we reported on Monday, was to promise that Australia would be spending no money on climate change conferences and “all that nonsense.”

He doesn’t dare pull Australia out of the Paris Treaty, but he has no intention of doing anything while it’s there. Pretty much Australia’s standard response to international efforts for the last few decades.

“We are not held to any of the (IPCC recommendations), and nor are we bound by them,” Morrison insisted. In short, Morrison was backing miners over scientists, as the Sydney Morning Herald headlined.

In the fantasy world of the Coalition, according to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Australia can have its cake and eat it, too. He says Australia can keep on burning coal for decades, encourage others to do so and still have a tourism industry on the Great Barrier Reef.

McCormack says Australia will not be dictated to by “some sort of report”.

Some sort of report?

The IPCC report is an opportunity to inspire some sort of rational and considered debate. It was timed, quite deliberately, to coincide with the deadline for the rules of the Paris Climate Treaty to be finalised and to encourage the world to do more than their down-payment promises made in Paris, as they had agreed.

Any hope that considered debate would follow was quickly lost.

Treasurer and former Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, ditching his pretence of being a moderate, declared:

“If we take coal out of our energy system, the lights will go out on the east coast of Australia — it’s as simple as that.”

If you did it all at once, with no planning, then of course. But no one is suggesting that. If you manage the exit, then no, the lights don’t need to go out.

Current Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, the anti-wind campaigner who says there is already too much wind and solar in the grid, did not take kindly to the IPCC’s recommended global renewable energy share of 75-80 per cent by 2050.

Taylor even tried to convince himself that Australia would meet its Paris target, despite the Government’s own data, which suggests it will miss it by about one billion tonnes on current trajectories.

He and Morrison congratulated Australia for meeting Kyoto, saying it was one of the only countries to meet its targets (the first stage of which allowed for a significant increase, rather than a fall, in Australia’s emissions — that’s not something to boast about).

And even when ministers were not talking to Murdoch media, the outcome was not much better.

In a complete train wreck of an interview, new Environment Minister Melissa Price – the former mining industry lawyer who is responsible for managing Australia’s emissions – admitted on ABC Radio’s AM program she had not read the whole IPCC report.

Still, she obviously felt she had read enough to suggest its 91 editors and authors had “drawn a long bow” and insisted that Australia would meet its Paris targets.

Asked how, Price then cited the nearly depleted Emissions Reduction Fund and two institutions that the Coalition has tried to scrap – the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – along with the Government’s “investment in Snowy 2.0”. And something about “building” one billion trees.

Sure, the CEFC and ARENA are playing an important and welcome role in helping the energy sector reduce emissions to its pro rata share of the pie. And Snowy 2.0, if it does go ahead, might do a very good job of using coal generation to push water uphill, if the renewables mix does not increase.

But none of Price’s examples explains, remotely, how the Government intends to meet an economy-wide 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions, let alone a more ambitious target to play its share of a 2°C scenario, let alone a 1.5°C scenario.

Asked about the IPCC’s recommendation that coal be phased out by 2050, Price said:

“I just don’t know how you can say by 2050 you are not going to have technology, good clean technology, when it comes to coal. That would be irresponsible of us to commit to that.”

Contrast all these comments from Australia’s cabinet ministers with those of Claire Perry, the UK Minister for Energy, who says her government will outline its next steps in the next few days:

 “I welcome the strong scientific analysis behind today’s IPCC report and its conclusions are stark and sober. As policymakers we need to work together to accelerate the low-carbon transition to minimise the costs and misery of a rapidly warming world.” 

Note her use of the words response, science, and the call to action. That was the purpose of the U.N. report.

But Morrison’s Coalition Government didn’t even try, so deep is it in the thrall of its own denial of the science, hiding in the coattails of Donald Trump’s Twitter account, beholden to the script laid out by the conservative forces and vested interests, and outlined in the conservative media.

And, just to remind us what this script is, The Australian’s “environment” editor Graham Lloyd – in a piece entitled U.N.’s climate change panel inhabits a universe without parallel – suggested it was all part of a plot by the U.N. to deliver a more equitable sharing of global resources.

Hint: they want to cut your meat pie in half and give it to someone else. That must explain why former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was eating his meat pie with a knife and fork, so he could cut it evenly. No wonder they ditched him.

The paper’s economics correspondent, Judith Sloan, said the IPCC report wasn’t science but "astrological prophecies". In an opinion piece entitled, 'If disaster is nigh, we’ll be spared this amateur hour claptrap', Sloan dismissed the science out of hand and claimed scientists know nothing about cost-benefit analysis.

But it is Sloan who willfully ignores it. You certainly wouldn’t want to go on a camping trip with any of this mob — they’d eat everything on the first day and be on the phone to Gina the next to get helicoptered out.

As ABC’s Paul Barry noted, you might be better off ignoring such tripe, were it not for the fact that this is what is guiding the Federal Government.

And as Opposition spokesman Mark Butler put it recently:

In spite of the clearest possible advice from the world’s most qualified scientists, this Government has again decided to block their ears and ignore the science, even if it means placing our children and our grandchildren in the face of serious danger.

Malcolm Turnbull was right when he said, after losing the Liberal leadership yet again, that the Coalition is simply constitutionally incapable of taking action on climate change.

We are now, quite openly, in the Age of Stupid — or is it the Age of Denial? Whichever it is, let’s just hope that it is over soon.

(Note: The IPCC issued a press release on June 4 announcing they had sent all governments a final draft of the 1.5°C report, so it is highly disingenuous of Price to claim she has had no time to read the report.)

This article was originally published in RenewEconomy on 9 October 2018 under the title 'Coalition’s breathtakingly stupid response to IPCC climate report' and has been republished with permission. You can follow Giles Parkinson on Twitter @GilesParkinson.

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